KINGSTREE—In the United States, an estimated 43.5 million people are involved in caregiving at any given time. It is estimated that 15 percent of the population will provide care for a loved one, based on a 2018 Pew Research Report. This data translates to more than 770,000 caregivers in South Carolina who provide 737 million hours of “free services” to their chronically ill, disabled or frail loved ones annually.
The St. Paul United Methodist Church family is a reflection of its greater community. Comprising about 200 weekly worshippers among her pews are individuals living with special healthcare needs, plus their caregiver. For the caregivers, it can be a rewarding experience, but it may also be mentally, physically, emotionally and financially stressful.
Fortunately, there are many ways a faith community can help, and one vital way members of the St. Paul family become involved is through respite care.
“Respite care” means short-term relief provided to a family taking care of a person with a disability for some time. Respite research demonstrates that respite care is beneficial for both the caregiver and the care recipient. Caregiving families are often so focused on the task of providing around-the-clock supervision that they become isolated. More often, families drop out of the faith community at the time when support is most needed. Respite care ministry can be a great way to bring caregivers back into the faith community, plus demonstrate a commitment to supporting them.
St. Paul already had a foundation of trust plus many of the needed resources, including an available room, stability and willing congregants. Because of this, St. Paul created a unique ministry with the South Carolina Department on Aging and the South Carolina Respite Coalition. The collaboration recognized St. Paul as one of two statewide recipients of a $5,000 mini-grant for the Lifespan Respite Faith-based Break Room Project.
Now, the St. Paul family awaits the grand opening of a respite care ministry called God’s Parlor. God’s Parlor will provide a safe place of comfort and support for loved ones living with special healthcare needs while allowing their caregiver to participate in Sunday school, worship service or any other St. Paul ministry.
On Oct. 30, St. Paul hosted specialty training for God’s Parlor volunteers and interested members. Rachel Hatton, executive director of the South Carolina Respite Coalition, along with Kay Taylor Hightower and Josh Houben with the South Carolina Department on Aging led the training to instruct volunteers on appropriate techniques and methods to care for individuals living with special health care needs.
The church expects this ministry to increase the awareness of volunteers and church members about the barriers that prevent individuals with special healthcare needs and their caregivers from fully participating in the faith community. With this understanding comes the possibility of intentional inclusion that is welcoming to people with special needs and their families.