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home : features : parish life

8/3/2017 9:00:00 AM
Parish team phones people not in pews
Mass-goers can get used to seeing the same faces in the pews around them each Sunday, but that doesn't mean an empty pew one week becomes a cause for concern.

St. Adalbert's parish in Schenectady thinks maybe it should be.

A new ministry is forming at St. Adalbert's through which volunteers will each call a half-dozen families from the parish every two weeks or so to check in on them.

This "telephone visitation team" is a way to keep track of senior citizens and shut-ins, said organizer Ron Severson, and generally "let people know that our parish family is here for them."

Inspired in part by the national Dynamic Catholic program, which focuses on evangelization, the idea came about after a man from the parish passed away last year in his home and was not discovered for a week.

"It's so easy, in our current days, to lose track of people," remarked Mr. Severson, an active parishioner who's part of the pastoral council. "We take them for granted and then [say], 'Oh, she's not here.'"

In the case of the deceased parishioner, Mr. Severson said, "He came faithfully to church and then he wasn't there," and no one from St. Adalbert's questioned it at first. Then they heard the disturbing news that the man's body had been found.

"How does this happen?" Mr. Severson wondered. People tend to sit in the same place in church each week, he said, but when someone isn't in his or her accustomed pew, others may assume it's just because of a vacation or a brief illness.

When one week becomes two, though, he believes someone should check on the missing Mass-goer.

Barbara Kusek agrees. Miss Kusek is Mr. Severson's aunt and was one of the first volunteers for the telephone visitation team.

A senior citizen herself, she recalled meeting a fellow parishioner who, she knew, worked with an elderly person. The woman casually told Miss Kusek, "Oh, he's in a nursing home now."

It disturbed Miss Kusek. "None of us knew," she said. "That really triggered me. All these people, they were faithful parishioners, and we don't want to lose them."

Miss Kusek, who's also in the Altar Rosary Society and Christian service committee, plans to start her work for the telephone visitation team by calling homebound parishioners and those who live in nursing homes, or the family members who have contact with them.

She'll ask whether the parishioners want visitors, church bulletins or communion brought to them, and "just touch base."

It's good for people who can't get out much to "just hear the voice of somebody [they] knew at one time," Miss Kusek said.

The telephone visitation team is just getting underway at St. Adalbert's. Mr. Severson expects to get more volunteers this fall and gradually expand the ministry to cover the whole parish.

He noted that even parishioners who are shut-ins themselves can make phone calls. In fact, it may be an ideal way for them to contribute and remain active in the parish.

"Everybody's going to be in this situation later in life," Miss Kusek said, noting that she regularly takes a 102-year-old parishioner who still lives at home to doctor's appointments.

Parishes, she said, need to be mindful of the people who aren't in the pews: "The Church is made up of people, not buildings."

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