In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, headlines remind that vulnerable people—those with inadequate housing, those in institutions where physical distancing is more difficult, and those who are elderly and frail—are more susceptible to the disease. In Canada, The Globe and Mail reported April 28, 79% of COVID-19 deaths are “connected to long-term care and seniors’ homes.”
How does a church respond from within an institution? The Banner talked to Richard Bodini, one of three pastors who serves Heritage Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, within Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, Ont.
“I’m amazed by the resilience of people here,” said Bodini. “This is a vibrant, active, caring community that continues to reach out and bless.”
Holland Christian Homes is a complex of seniors' residences home to 1,100 people. It includes six independent living apartment towers and two long-term care homes, Faith Manor and Grace Manor. As of April 28, one resident of Faith Manor had tested positive for COVID-19; there had been 21 coordinated or emergency response transfers to hospital for residents of Grace Manor; 27 active resident cases of COVID-19 were present in Grace Manor; and there had been four deaths of residents of Grace Manor who had tested positive for COVID-19. Grace Manor was also among five priority long-term care homes in Ontario to receive staffing reinforcements from the Canadian Armed Forces who arrived and began work on April 28.
In the midst of that dynamic situation, spiritual care continues alongside the vital physical care.
Caring in Community
Before the pandemic, 250 residents volunteered regularly throughout the complex. Now there are new restrictions and also new opportunities. Volunteers on each floor of the towers check up with neighbors on their floors through phone calls. Choir members, three at a time, and organists, on a rotating schedule, still lead worship for livestreamed church. Residents are pouring out financial and homemade gifts as well as words of gratitude to staff, administration, and the pastoral team. “This is the generation that we would understand as the builders,” said Bodini. “They’re still trying to build the infrastructure that is going to bless those who are in need at this time.”
Among those responding to a need are Shelly Petersen and her daughter Anne Pennells (Chair of Family Council for Faith Manor). Petersen lives in Covenant Tower. Her husband lives in Faith Manor. In mid-March, Petersen and Pennels began making masks to help stop community spread of the virus in the parts of Holland Christian Homes that were not in outbreak.
Prompted by a request for help from Faith Manor administrator Tracy Kamino, Pennels and Petersen first drew up designs and, within a few hours, had made samples. After transforming Petersen’s apartment and the empty apartment across the hall into a sewing factory, they videoed their process and trained residents in small groups. “We had a whole team of seniors inside Holland Christian Homes making these masks. All doing different stages of the process,” said Pennells.
People from other CRCs and Christian schools offered help. Within two and a half weeks, almost 3,000 masks were completed, outfitting all Towers residents, and any Manor residents who wanted one, with surplus supply. While the handmade masks were not recommended for a clinical setting, they were encouraged to be used by staff and residents to control the potential spread of the virus from the wearer to others.
The mother-daughter team is now spearheading the design and production of hospital gowns for the staff of Faith and Grace Manor.
Dedicated Pastoral Care
The community is helping prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but they also care about those who already contracted the virus. Of the three pastors who serve Heritage Fellowship CRC, one, Henk Bruinsma, is now dedicated to ministering only within Grace Manor, the Holland Christian Homes facility with the most active outbreak.
Wearing personal protective equipment, Bruinsma is allowed close and personal interactions. Having pastored Heritage for over a decade, he considers this a privilege at a time when so much pastoral care is restricted. He connects residents with their families and, in the case of Catholic residents, with priests, via phone and video calls. Those can represent crucial connections. The current policy is that one person per day can visit an end-of-life resident—which might mean not every family member gets a chance.
In an internal letter to the HCH community, which was shared with The Banner by permission, Bruinsma stressed that the complex's nursing staff are the true heroes. And he shared about the importance of spreading hope. “This hope is grounded in the certainty of God’s love expressed for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Daily devotions, which the pastoral team began March 19, are streamed on an inhouse network throughout the complex. Holland Christian Homes CEO Ken Rawlins provides updates and announcements followed by the pastors contributing devotions, some levity, and the acknowledgement of birthdays for residents over 90.
Creative connections have also been a part of serving. On April 17, Bodini arranged a family window visit for a resident in Grace Manor. The family gathered with signs outside her window, encouraging her to eat and drink over Zoom (a video meeting app) on Bodini’s phone. With help from staff inside, she came to the window in a wheelchair to see her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She ate her lunch at the window as they continued cheering and waving.
“Pastoral privileges are so often about meeting people in the crossroads of life,” said Bodini, “Sure, these aren’t always easy places, but they are holy moments where we are invited to bring the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, to pray, and to pronounce the blessing of the triune God. Friday afternoon with that family was a holy moment. That’s what we’re encountering in the moments of COVID-19 in and around Holland Christian Homes.”