On a visit to the U.S. Mother Teresa noted that, “There is a great poverty here. It is not a poverty of the body, but a poverty of the spirit.” She noted that loneliness and neglect are the symptoms suffered by many, but especially the elderly.
Several years ago, the Diocese of Orange invited parishes to establish a support ministry for parish seniors. There was an awareness that many of these individuals suffered from social isolation. The causes are not hard to spot: loss of a spouse; loss of a community due to a move; loss of family support, also due to relocation. Sometimes, as one member of the Ministry said, “It is the Trifecta.”
We live in a mobile society driven by the need to support families in a safe environment with available jobs and good schools. This may not be the community of the grandparents. Frequently, the reverse is true. The elderly parent or parents need to relocate due to health reasons or cost of living. Starting over in a new community is difficult. A loss of a spouse may soon follow. The family rallies around the surviving parent, but time requires a return to normal routines.
San Francisco Solano Parish in Ranch Santa Margarita was fortunate to be a fairly young parish, both in parish development and parishioners in the early 2000s. The pastor, Father Craig Butters, heard the recommendation from the diocese and invited parishioners to establish a “social ministry” for seniors. In July, 2004, this ministry was launched. Now, 15 years later, it has grown from a modest 20 parishioners to 200 parishioners participating in multiple events designed to bring people together and encourage new friendships. It is known as the “55 & Better” Social Ministry.
This has not been an easy task. It takes dedication and planning. The ministry is self-governing and self-supporting, under the watchful eye of the administrator, Father Duy Le. Without his quiet support, the ministry would lack an important foundation.
The ministry is governed by established by-laws, written and approved by a knowledgeable group of parishioners several years ago. These by-laws insure that board members will rotate every two years, bringing in new ideas and programs. The board addresses problems and solutions follow.
An elected board of six individuals and a supporting board of six others plan bi-monthly gatherings at the parish. In addition, trips and other activities are planned to accommodate the various interests of the membership. To sum it up, there is something for everyone. As one member said, “It is like the old television show, ‘Cheers.’ I want to go where everybody knows my name.” That is the ultimate goal of the Senior Ministry.
It is not unusual to see members supporting other ministries in the community. Many are Eucharistic ministers, lectors, participants in parish office projects and special events.