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Respite ministries are fresh expressions, vital outreach ministries

February 04, 2019
By Kara Witherow, Editor

What ministry are you building for the future? Are you laying bricks or are you building a church?

Those are the questions Daphne Johnston posed to Winter Conference attendees as she passionately led a presentation of respite care ministries, focusing on Montgomery (Ala.) First United Methodist Church’s Respite Ministry, which she has led since its 2012 inception.

“What ministry do you have to give people purpose?” she asked the crowd as she explained that at Respite Ministry, which serves those who live with memory loss, there is no distinction between participant and volunteer.

Participants also serve, and through their interactions with Respite Ministry staff and volunteers they find identity, connection, security, autonomy, meaning, growth, and joy.

“Can you imagine never hearing the words ‘thank you’ again?” Johnston said. “With dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can feel so isolated, but when you get to Respite you hear, ‘We’re glad you’re here’ and ‘We missed you last week.’ Everyone needs to hear those things.”

She continued to tell about the now thriving, vibrant ministry that began with just two participants and has grown into a model for others around the country. She shared memory loss statistics and the staggering cost of long-term private care. But most of all, she inspired attendees to look at their own congregations and communities and, “tell the story, and invite other people in!”

In addition to Johnston, two South Georgia pastors presented during the workshop.

Rev. Meg Procopio, Minister of Staff Development at Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah, told the story of Hope Arbor, Isle of Hope UMC’s respite care ministry.

The only church-based respite care ministry in the Savannah area, Hope Arbor opened its doors Jan. 23, 2018, with 65 volunteers. It’s been a blessing to the church and the community, she said.

“With Alzheimer’s, we so often become invisible, and with respite, we belong,” Rev. Procopio said. “This ministry has taught me so much about what it means to be human.”

Rev. Teresa Edwards, associate pastor of Forest Hills United Methodist Church in Macon, was inspired to start a respite care ministry after meeting and befriending a couple who was facing memory loss.

“So many families are isolated by this disease,” she said. “I was humbled and blessed to get to walk with them for a little while and get to learn what this experience was for them. I thought, ‘we can do better.’”

Forest Hills UMC’s respite ministry hopes to open in September, offering care twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“It’s fresh expressions like these and the individuals who are finding ways to minister to their communities that make us Alive Together in the World,” said South Georgia Bishop R. Lawson Bryan. “May we all take a look around us to see where God is calling our churches to be more alive.”

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