Fueled by compassion, Aging Ministry steps up in pandemic for older generations

May 25, 2021

The Office of Aging is evolving with the needs of aging adults, especially as they emerge from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Rod Long)

HOUSTON — While the challenges of caregiving and maintaining healthy relationships with older adults have significantly increased since COVID-19, the Office of Aging Ministry continues to compassionately serve as the primary aging resource within the Archdiocese, providing consultation to and resources for its offices, parishes, families and senior groups.

According to Kathy Bingham, director of the Office of Aging, the ministry is evolving and expanding to adjust with and respond to the needs of aging adults, especially as they emerge from the effects of the pandemic.

“Being isolated and separated from their faith communities has been difficult, and many elders still do not feel safe leaving home to attend Mass or find themselves being a caregiver to a homebound spouse or family member,” said Bingham. “Lingering grief will certainly be a result of this pandemic; seniors have passed away — some from COVID-19 — and their normal ritual of Liturgy and burial were altered. Families, friends could not attend or reach out to offer comfort.”

Bingham said the ministry has been challenged to pivot quickly to find effective ways to maintain communication with those it serves without the ability to meet in person.

“In addition to personal phone calls, we immediately began a weekly e-mail alert to the leaders of our parish senior groups that included a prayer reflection and a community resource for services, which parish leaders then forwarded the information to their club members,” said Bingham. “We continue to publish our quarterly newsletter with spiritual and educational resources, as well as a Facebook page to provide similar resource information to a broader aging community. We increased the resource materials on our webpage also to include information and support on caregiving, aging in place, and end-of-life planning.”

Bingham said the Office of Aging also recognizes that the Baby Boomer generation is encountering issues and questions about healthcare, Medicare, Social Security, housing, and End-of-Life planning as they approach a voluntary or forced retirement.

At the same time, they often are caring for aging parents. She said knowing they can reach out to the Church for trustworthy information and guidance is helpful.

“Prior to the pandemic, our office worked in collaboration with our parish leaders on these aging and retirement issues,” said Bingham. “Unable to host live events, the past year was filled with virtual learning and prayer opportunities and numerous e-mail and phone consultations, including calls from clergy looking for assistance for a frail member of their community. We continue to offer active referrals, support and consultation for older adults, family members and staff on Medicare benefits, caregiver support, home care assistance, hospice care, access to the vaccine and affordable housing options.”

Verna Patout, a Baby Boomer and retiree of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, reached out to the Office of Aging as she began exploring her plans for retirement.
She said from her personal experience, the Office of Aging is one of the most important ministries in the Archdiocese.

“The Office of Aging is a place that I trust, where people young and old are treated with respect and given information that can be life-altering,” said Patout. “Making a wrong decision about your future or missing a deadline required by the government can have repercussions that follow you literally for the rest of your life. If there is any wisdom or advice that I could impart to people, it would be that it is never too early to make connections with the Office of Aging.”

Patout said obtaining information for an elderly person that is overwhelmed by the process is an act of compassion and a learning experience for the caretaker for their own future needs.

“With a growing population of people living longer, this ministry not only deals with imparting knowledge to navigate government systems, but also information about other resources that are needed by the elderly,” said Patout. “Kathy and her staff will compassionately talk with you about the issues of aging, including how to help an aging parent with health issues, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and nursing homes. Having someone that is knowledgeable, takes time to listen, and helps process these issues is wonderful.”

The Office of Aging Ministry is one of 60 ministries supported by the 2021 Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

The ministry depends on these funds to continue providing the number and variety of programs and services offered to seniors and their caregivers in the Archdiocese, which covers 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Walker and Waller.

“Our reach is extensive — approximately 120 parishes with active senior adult groups utilize our services and programs in the Archdiocese, so the DSF is essential to our staffing and program operations,” said Bingham. “With limited staff, it is important for donors to know that all the senior group activity at the parish level is led by volunteers who receive training, information, resources and support from the office. We could not continue to serve older adults, caregivers and retiring adults without support from DSF.”