July 21, 2017

Does your parents’ nursing home practice their religion?

I introduced my gramma to my fiance at her nursing home and she gave us her blessing to get married.

Here are the shocking religious politics I uncovered while I volunteered at a dozen nursing homes last year, and what you can do to help counteract them so that your parents get the care they need and deserve. I am a born-again Christian. I hope any nursing home I end up in will support me in that. I won’t feel supported if all they have are Catholic, Jewish or Islamic religious services. Non-believers might think religious services are all the same, but they are not. I feel sure Catholic, Jewish and Islamic believers agree with me on this point.

Unfortunately, I personally have ministered to senior citizens in nursing homes where their particular religion is not practiced. My friend and I sang hymns and read our Bibles to the senior saints for months before one of the seniors told us we provided the closest thing to a church service they could relate to. Their nursing home had services for people of a different faith or a denomination different enough that they didn’t benefit from it.

Even if you aren’t religious, stop to consider if your parents are. I can tell you from experience that if they are, then only services in their particular faith and denomination will minister to them. They will feel even more isolated and forgotten if you put them in a nursing home that practices mainly another religion. Not only will they not be ministered to, they won’t have religion in common with the other people who live there.

Be Involved

My own dad is in a nursing home in another state. I can only visit once or twice a year. I email the administrator regularly and keep in touch via the facility’s Facebook page. My mom is in the health care industry and she tells me patients whose friends and relatives keep tabs on them get better care. It isn’t anything deliberate that makes neglected patients get inferior care. They just don’t seem like a priority. It is more an unconscious part of human nature to give the squeaky wheels the grease.

The Writing Is on the Wall

Most nursing homes publish monthly calendars of activities. Often these are large wall displays, but sometimes they are handouts. The names of the predominant religious activities identify the main religion practiced in that nursing home. Sometimes the names are as obvious as “Catholic Church” or “Protestant Church.” Most of the time the names are more subtle and you have to read between the lines or ask the activity director point blank, “What religion are most of the people who live here?”

Covert Operations

Times are tough. Sales people who fill rooms in nursing homes might be tempted to fib about the main religious practices in their building. They know that once your parents move in, the odds they will relocate to a different nursing home are low. Once you find a home you think is a good place for your parent, call anonymously and ask about their religious services. Ask how often they have them and what denomination they are. Ask for contact information for the people who come to minister. Contact them and verify they are of your parents’ faith and how often they minister at that nursing home.

Bring Church to the Nursing Home

This takes commitment and time. It is a ministry rather than a way to grow the church, so in my experience church leadership doesn’t get excited about it. You can do it, though. See the nursing home administrator and ask what is required to become an official volunteer. You may have to get a TB test. They may run a credit check and even a criminal check. Ask if you can set up a regular weekly time to come minister to seniors who share your faith, doing whatever that entails. I did this for six months and it was very rewarding. Another lady continues to do it.

Video: Highways and Byways Ministries Singing “You Can’t Be a Beacon if Your Light Don’t Shine”


National Adult Protective Services Association

Sonshine Society of Christian Nursing Home Volunteer Singers

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