5 ways to care for the elderly through COVID-19

December 29, 2020

The elderly members of a local church are a unique gift. This is not, however, a popular position among all pastors. Some see the elderly as a burden on the church; the group in the church who cannot contribute much but hold back progress. There was a time early in my pastoral ministry I was tempted to think this way. But my opinion changed with time. Over the years, the elderly members of my church became some of the most significant blessings of my 25-year pastoral ministry.  

This shift from burden to blessing in my thinking came as I began to get creative about how to care for these longtime, faithful members who often feel overlooked by our new, younger, energetic members. This creativity required action. 

So, I walked an indoor track with Mildred, a 90-year-old widow who walked this track for five miles, three times a week. 

I worked in the garden with Jim, an 82-year-old widower who always felt lost since his wife died. 

I used my wife’s van and picked up five elderly ladies unable to drive themselves to take them to lunch (typically Cracker Barrel).  

I took a group to sing Christmas carols in the living room of Ms. Tillie, a 106-year-old widow who loved music.  

I sat numerous times at the kitchen table of Ms. Betty, an 88-year-old widow who always provided tea and cookies for our talk.  

These examples remain some of my sweetest memories as a pastor.

The elderly members of a local church are a unique gift.

But COVID-19 changed all that. In the same way, I needed to get creative on how to care for elderly members feeling left out of a growing and changing church. And I also had to channel creative, pastoral instincts to wade through this uncharted territory of 2020. How do pastors and loved ones care for a group of people who are told to stay home, not get out, and keep their distance from all others for their safety?  Here are five suggestions to still help meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of elderly members while maintaining a safe distance in the COVID-19 age.

1. Let them hear your voice.

When COVID-19 hit, many of our elderly members already battling loneliness and isolation experienced a new level of its intensity. I quickly learned how helpful it was for them to just hear a human voice. Phone calls became a regular practice. I even went so far as to go and stand in the middle of someone’s yard just so they could hear my voice in person. Do not underestimate how big of a difference the sound of another human’s voice can make in the extreme isolation many elderly folks have faced since March.

2. Take full advantage of technology.

I think we would all agree, the middle of COVID-19 lockdown is not the most ideal time to try and teach an 85-year-old how to use Zoom or FaceTime. But I learned it is possible. The benefits of seeing someone’s face and talking to them are significant. In fact, joining a Zoom call became a balm to the souls of many elderly in our church. I realize it can be hard and frustrating trying to help an elderly person learn these new ways of communication, especially since many of them are resistant. But we should still try. If it works, it will be worth it for them and you.

3. Find ways to be physically present at a distance.

Human beings were not made for isolation. This is the great challenge COVID-19 brought into our lives—especially the elderly. Without warning, all elderly folks were warned to avoid human contact. But because I understood this basic human need of touch and physical presence, I kept pushing for a solution. It did not take long to realize a Zoom call still did not replace physical presence. As I mentioned, I began to go to the homes of the elderly and stand in their yard and talk with them while they stood on the porch. I sat on the back deck with a mask on while they sat on the other side, providing plenty of safe distance to visit. I even stood at the glass screen door with my hands on the glass while an 85-year-old widow put her hands on mine through the glass as we talked. Find ways to be physically present, then tend to emotional and spiritual needs in that moment.

4. Drop off care packages at the front door.

This became a very practical way for anyone to serve the isolated elderly. A care package containing food, requested supplies, books, baked goods, pictures children colored, and craft materials to pass the time can safely be dropped off at the front door.  I watched this become a major blessing to those longing to be remembered by others.  

5. Write a physical note and mail it to them.

In the age of email and social media, writing a physical letter has practically become a lost art.  But for elderly people who never bought a computer and never signed up for social media—the practice remained. To this day, I still get physical notes from members of my church and calls from a landline because they have not embraced this technological age. Therefore, do not miss the meaning behind receiving a physical note in the mail for these members. This provides something they can hold, look at, smell, and read over and over again as isolation tempts them to think they are forgotten.

I have watched some pastors simply throw their hands up in the air and declare there is nothing more we can do than make phone calls. But that is wrong. Yes, it requires creativity and a refusal to give up that is driven by a deep love for these sweet saints whose needs have not changed just because COVID-19 hit. They need what we all need—the assurance we are loved and remembered, and the comfort of human presence and interaction.

Brian Croft

Brian Croft has served in pastoral ministry for over 25 years and is the founder and executive director of Practical Shepherding. He is also the senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written or contributed to over 25 books on … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24