Caring Touch Can Speak Volumes in Ministry

Caring Touch Can Speak Volumes in Ministry

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


He slouches in his wheelchair as bingo cards are being distributed. I am not sure what he is thinking. My guess is he’s not a big fan of the game. Every signal from his body seems to say he would rather be anywhere but where he is at the moment. He is in the sunroom of a very nice community for those who can no longer manage life on their own.

Suddenly music from the 1940s and 1950s is heard and “Martie” comes alive. It’s beautiful to see his immediate change of mood. His face lights up. His whole demeanor changes. I am not alone in noticing the change. An aide sees it, too. She puts her arms around the back of his chair, begins swaying the chair as she hums the music.

Martie wiggles himself into the corner of the chair and nestles into the arms that are moving it. “Ah,” he coos, “I’m in heaven.”

Bingo is no longer on his mind. The soft touch of an aide and the music are the key that opens Martie’s heart. He is clearly loving this human connection with this caring aide, who seems to understand the importance of touch to a human soul—no matter how battered and frail age has made him. It brings a smile, a visible change in attitude. 

This smile, this visible change in attitude, affects me as well. Suddenly I feel better about visiting a parishioner, who also resides at this facility, and the ministry of which I am privileged to be a part.

She is delightful even in the repetition of the same stories over and over again, even in her forgetfulness, even in her “hating this place” and “having her home taken away.”

What is delightful about her? Maybe, it is that she smiles a lot, even when she is angry. Maybe, it’s because she has just asked me to play bingo with her. Maybe, it’s because the smiles are genuine and often accompany her comment, “Oh well, I’ve had a good life, I’ll do what I can and make the best of it.”

Reluctantly (I have a busy day scheduled) come the words I haven’t planned on, “I would love to play bingo with you and your friends.” I take her hand and help her move the markers to the numbers as they are called. When she has had enough of bingo, she grabs my hand tightly and says with a big grin on her face, “That was nice. I like playing bingo with you.”

She reinforces what I was reminded of by Martie. A caring, appropriate touch is often a part of ministry, especially ministry with people who often feel no longer needed or valued. Older adult ministry is often a matter of “keeping in touch.” A pat on the shoulder, holding a hand in prayer, a hug (when the relationship allows), guiding a shaky hand to a bingo board, all speak volumes. So, a thought for the day: keep in touch.