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Posted: July 23, 2010 12:00 a.m.

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Bringing the faith with them

By Chris Queen/

Churches have long been committed to taking care of the elderly. For years, churches have devoted resources and staff and volunteer hours to ministering to "shut-ins" and visiting those in nursing homes. With the advent of assisted living facilities, churches have discovered new ways to reach out to older generations. Local assisted living facilities have seen the benefits of churches reaching out to their residents.

At Merryvale Assisted Living in Oxford, First Baptist Church of Covington has provided an onsite worship service on Sunday mornings for 11 years, led by lay pastor Perry Kirk. The service began with six volunteers and has now grown to over 30 who give their time to serve the residents there. Canaan Baptist offers a Thursday evening service every week; the service includes singing and preaching, and sometimes the church brings special groups to sing at Merryvale.

Other churches have provided different services. Central Community Church sends a group to visit the residents of Merryvale the first Tuesday of every month. The church has also donated items such as fleece blankets to the residents during the Christmas season. The First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches have brought their choirs out to perform, and the handbell choir from Mt. Zion Baptist Church has performed there as well. Groups from Eastridge Community Church have done service projects at Merryvale, and The Church at Covington has helped the facility out with large events and parking.

"So many churches have been wonderful to us," said Sam Coleman, Activities Director at Merryvale.

At Benton House, another assisted living facility in Covington, First United Methodist Church and Tabernacle Baptist each provide services at the facility one Sunday a month, and First Baptist provides transportation to their services every Sunday. Canaan Baptist hosts a weekly service on Tuesday evenings with piano and guitar music and preaching. Rockdale Baptist has brought their choir to sing there as well. Staff members lead devotions with the residents on Monday and Friday each week.

"Our residents love and look forward to the services every week," said Betty Britt, activities director at Benton House.

For residents of assisted living facilities like Merryvale and Benton House, church activities provide not only spiritual nurturing, but also a sense of community and stability. The churches and affiliated groups who reach out to assisted living residents provide a level of service that encourages senior citizens in many ways.

"I can’t even begin to say how much our residents benefit from what the churches do for us," said Britt. "These people bring church to our residents and allow them the opportunity to worship with others. If the churches don’t come in here, some of our residents won’t get to worship."

"Church is a way of life for this generation," said Coleman. "Being able to worship helps give them a sense of home."

Even with the outpouring of support from local churches, there are plenty of ways churches and other groups can help at Benton House and Merryvale. There are two Sundays each month in which Benton House has no onsite church services; Britt said she would like to see churches come in to present Sunday morning worship services there. Benton House is also looking for groups to visit residents once a month and minister to them in both their assisted living and memory care facilities. Individuals and groups are welcome to lead devotions and Bible studies throughout the week, and choirs and other music groups are encouraged to visit as well.

"Church groups always brighten our residents’ spirits when they visit, even if it’s only once a month," said Britt. "Our residents love it when visitors come to see them."

At Merryvale, churches can bring groups or individuals in to lead smaller Bible studies or visit one-on-one with residents. Groups can perform outreach and service projects, and choirs and musicians are welcome to perform.

"We love to see people with different skill sets minister to our residents," said Coleman.

Merryvale is located at 11980 Highway 142 in Oxford, and Benton House is located at 7155 Dearing Road in Covington. Churches, groups, or individuals who would like to reach out to residents at these facilities can call Merryvale at (678) 712-2000 or Benton House at (770) 788-6660.

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