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24 October 2014

Celebrating the elderly

Celebrating the elderly

Churches across the country are fulfilling Jesus' call to love their neighbours and Jesus House in Brent Cross, London, is no exception. The church is part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God denomination (RCCG), which has grown since 1988 to 700 churches in the UK.

Week in, week out, elderly residents in care homes across Barnet and Brent are visited during the weekend by a group of committed volunteers from Jesus House who share God's love and bring a smile to their faces. The ministry, called Abigail's Court, was founded with a strong vision to reach out to the older and often forgotten members of the community. At its height, Abigail's Court visited 52 homes, but this has reduced to 42 due to cuts in the two boroughs. More than 30 people are currently serving on the team, led by Stella Jackson-Obot.

On their visits to homes they open in prayer, sing familiar songs and hymns with the residents and keep them awake by clapping energetically. "We ask them questions and love to see their faces brighten up," Stella explained. "After singing we pray the Lord's Prayer with them, bless them and pray for the sick. Then we finish with a lively song they all recognise, such as It's a Long Way to Tipperary."

"When we begin visiting homes they often ask us why we are using our time to meet with the elderly residents. We tell them it is because of the love of God and that we are there to serve," Stella explained. Her experience of working in a care home for many years means she has an understanding of the residents' needs and compassion for them. "You need passion to love them and treat them as if they are your own family," she said.

As well as the weekly visits, the Abigail's Court team plan an annual banquet called Celebrating Life to honour senior citizens in the two boroughs and beyond. Their 10th anniversary is coming up next year.

This year the ninth Celebrating Life event took place on Saturday, 2 August, with 530 guests welcomed to the Jesus House auditorium for a three-course meal and Christian entertainment. Each guest was given a rose on their arrival and a gift before they left. Those who have a birthday in the month of the event are presented with a card and a shared cake, and given an extra special treat if it's their birthday that weekend.

"I've never had such hospitality like this in all my life, and I appreciate it most sincerely," said one guest at the 2008 event, recorded in the video on the Jesus House website.

"We receive cards from the guests who have attended saying how much they enjoyed it, and phone calls at the start of the year from homes asking when the next event will take place!" Stella explained.

The local MPs and mayors of both Brent and Barnet councils attend, as well as local councillors and elderly church members. Some 45 trained volunteers from Jesus House make the event possible and no expense is spared. Stella explained that they do not limit the number of guests because they are so keen to bless the residents of their local care homes, and also their carers. To raise funds for the food, entertainment and transport costs, the team regularly sell cakes after their church services.

Stella's passion for reaching out to her elderly neighbours shines through: "We don't have to ask if this is what God wants us to do –this is what he expects, as we read in Matthew 25." Stella is keen to share their resources and expertise with other churches, and another RCCG church is already planning to set up a similar ministry in their community. "People are free to contact us to find out more," she said.

Abigail's Court is part of the Church Social Responsibility department in Jesus House, which also runs a local food bank and youth scheme, encourages members to sponsor children and co-ordinates more than 8,000 shoeboxes filled with gifts for children to send overseas at Christmas time.

The Alliance's recent research Are we good neighbours? is designed to inspire churches and individuals about how they can be better neighbours in their community.

Visit www.eauk.org/surveys to find out more.

Contact Stella Jackson-Obot at Abigail's Court at

abigailscourt@jesushouse.org.uk

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