Much has been said about the isolation senior adults feel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Less has been discussed about their spiritual needs during this period of quarantine.
Liberty Township’s Pastor Doug Dunlap has created the perfect remedy to reach seniors longing for the church time they once cherished. Just as education has developed hybrid ways of learning, Dunlap has created variations of church that have tended to seniors’ spiritual lives.
“Hallway Church” is his method of reaching out to the residents of Birchwood Care Center in Fairfield Township. One day a week residents scoot a chair to their apartment doorway and listen for Pastor Dunlap, clutching his music box blasting cherished hymns of the past. Clad in scrubs, mask and face shield, he wanders up and down the halls playing old standards such as Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art and Rock of Ages. The medley of voices evokes memories of church times and provides a spiritual experience for the sheltered-in residents.
Often the nurses stop a bit to sing along with the residents, creating a makeshift congregation.
“I used to provide song sheets in the pre-COVID days,” he recalls. “But just as restaurant menus of today are read and discarded, I realized we actually don’t need printed words. These residents may not recall what they had for dinner last night, but they can remember every verse of the hymns we sing as the words are embedded deeply in their souls.”
“Doorway Church” occurs weekly at Doverwood Village in Fairfield Township. Dunlap, wearing what he calls his “hazmat suit,” and clutching his music box, sings with them, prays and listens to their concerns. Dunlap brings his own stool in case he chooses to spend time with an anxious or depressed individual. His goal is to listen and lift their spirits.
Church sermons are pre-recorded weekly at Chesterwood Village in West Chester. These 15-minute talks are broadcast on channel 2, a special TV channel for residents-only. They run Sundays at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s a highly anticipated time for all of the Hillandale facilities, including the year-old Advanced Therapy Center on the Chesterwood campus.
“While these seniors sit in their suites viewing the program, they feel a special bond knowing that their friends and neighbors are also tuning in,” says Dunlap. “It diminishes the feeling of hopelessness and isolation.
“Since we can’t risk these seniors gathering at each facility for worship, we try to give them as much of a religious experience as possible. “
Communion Day occurred at Easter. Dunlap purchased pre-poured cups packaged with a wafer to complete the Eucharist.
“It took three days for me to push my Communion Cart through all the facilities,” recalls Dunlap. “But it sure was worth it. Like the rest of us, any semblance of normalcy is a great blessing. Communion was taken by 124 residents and 28 staff members.”
Dunlap fits in his pastoral duties when he is not at his full-time job as the Butler/Warren Counties Director of Jobs Plus, a faith-based job readiness program for those who have been down on their luck and seek to be employable. They are trained and equipped with skills needed in the community. It’s part of Cincinnati-based City Gospel Mission.
“While my work keeps me busy and fulfilled, my ministry of 10-12 hours a week for the Hillandale Family of Communities at Birchwood, Doverwood, Chesterwood Village and that campus’ Advanced Therapy Center gives me a special blessed experience as the residents feel spiritually nurtured.”