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    United Methodists of Upper New YorkLiving the Gospel. Being God's Love.

    news article

    Three Upper NY United Methodist Churches’ help bring joy to seniors

    December 20, 2023 / By Kevin Miller, Multimedia Content Creator / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    The holiday season is a time of celebration, joy and family gatherings, but for many senior adults, it can also be a time of loneliness and isolation. 
    However, Faith in Action Volunteers, a program of the Broome County Council of Churches, has been lighting up the lives of seniors for a number of years through a heartwarming initiative known as the Silver Bells program. The mission of Faith in Action is clear: to provide essential services to Broome County’s senior adults, enabling them to maintain their independence. These services encompass a range of support, including transportation to medical appointments and assistance with grocery shopping. They’re a lifeline for those who may have limited mobility or family living far away. 
    According to Consumer Affairs, in 2021, 28% of seniors live alone, totaling more than 14.7 million people (nearly twice the population of New Jersey), with loneliness and social isolation increasing the risk of various health issues, including dementia, stroke, heart disease, mental health disorders, and premature mortality. The health effects of loneliness are even compared to smoking 15 cigarettes each day. And when the holiday season arrives, the challenges faced by many of these senior adults become even more apparent. For some, there may be no family members nearby to share the festivities with, while others might not have family at all.  
    It’s during this time that the Silver Bells program shines brightly, ensuring that no member of their community is left without a gift to open on Christmas day. 
    Vestal United Methodist Church (VUMC), one of six Broome County churches supporting the Silver Bells program, has been helping to play an integral part in ensuring seniors do not feel alone during the holiday season. In the past, the church received tags bearing names and gift requests, which were then hung on a small tree in their sanctuary. However, the program has evolved, and now they receive the names and gift requests through an online platform called SignUpGenius.  
    The beauty of Silver Bells lies in its simplicity. The gift requests are usually modest, reflecting the genuine and practical desires of the seniors. They might ask for a cozy sweater to ward off the winter chill. Large print puzzle books offer entertainment, while gift cards for grocery stores provide a sense of self-sufficiency. Blank note cards and stamps allow seniors to stay connected with loved ones through handwritten letters. 
    The process is a heartfelt one. Members of the VUMC congregation eagerly choose a name from the list, purchase the requested gift(s), and return them to the church. The gifts are then collected and delivered to the Faith in Action Volunteers, who take on the task of wrapping them with care. Jean Stout, a member of VUMC, emphasizes, “We see many toy drives and angel trees that focus on children and families at this time of year. It’s important to also support the senior adults in our community and let them know they are remembered and not alone, especially during the holidays.” 
    Vestal UMC is joined by two other Upper New York Conference churches in this compassionate endeavor. Park Terrace United Methodist Church and Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church were also instrumental participants. With all six Broome County churches participating, four different faith traditions are represented -- a testament to the power of unity among God's people. 
    In the spirit of the holiday season, one small act of kindness can create ripples of joy that touch the lives of those who need it most. Jeff Patricia, the chair of the mission committee at Park Terrace Community United Methodist Church (PTC), understands the power of such acts and the endless possibilities they offer for making a difference. His mantra is clear: "There are countless ideas and opportunities for missions. We should try new ideas." This philosophy of embracing fresh initiatives and seeking novel ways to make a positive impact led PTC to an inspiring journey with the Silver Bells program. 
    Back in 2018, PTC took its first step in this heartwarming tradition. They were assigned 20 tags, each bearing a name and a couple of gift ideas. Fast forward six years, and Silver Bells have become a cherished and time-honored tradition within their community. During the bustling holiday season, many organizations and churches face the decision of whether to replace existing programs with new ones. PTC, however, took a different approach. They recognized the value of diversity in their holiday mission projects and decided to add Silver Bells to the list, rather than replacing an existing program. It was a way to extend their outreach and offer support to a generation that may often find itself alone during Christmas. 
    Sue Spencer, Director of Faith in Action Volunteers, poignantly reminded PTC of the program's unique focus, saying, "Usually our programs are about Santa and kids. We don't often think of seniors sitting home alone on Christmas day." This sentiment deeply resonated with Sue Mott, one of PTC's dedicated members. She observed that while many projects concentrate on children and families, seniors are sometimes assumed to have family during the holidays. Sue Mott said, "Silver Bells is a way of honoring them and recognizing their importance. It's meaningful to touch their lives and have an impact." 
    PTC member Rachel Acri beautifully captured the essence of this act of kindness, noting, “Usually it’s something so simple for me, but may be a big deal for them. I can help them feel loved and wanted by giving them that gift.” Sherri Reed, another PTC member, demonstrated that kindness knows no bounds. Instead of signing up this year, she chose to make a donation, ensuring that no senior would be missed. She explained, “It’s important to make sure everyone has a gift.” 

    The response from seniors has been heartening, although they may initially decline gifts with a modest "I don't need anything." When encouraged to make a wish list, their requests reveal simple yet meaningful wants: socks, gloves, or grocery store gift cards. Some ask for new stationery, envelopes, or stamps, while others add a touch of fun with requests for "creamy milk chocolates" or even "a radio that plays cassette tapes." 
    Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church got involved in the Silver Bells initiative in its second year, as explained by the Reverend Carolyn Stow. When Sue Spencer reached out to the Pastor, church leaders had recently talked about new ways to love their neighbors. They were already involved in several ministries that gave gifts to children and families for Christmas and were hoping to expand. Spencer had explained her program serves seniors who can no longer live independently without assistance, and she had a goal to give each of those shut-ins in the Faith in Action program a Christmas gift. “They were only twenty away from reaching that 150-person goal, and I knew our congregation was ready to embrace this new way of beginning the Advent season,” Rev. Stow remembers. 

    Each year since 2019, the church community has incorporated Silver Bells tags into their holiday customs. They now proudly display two Advent wreaths—one adorned with candles lit weekly to mark the Christmas countdown, and another adorned with tags bearing names and gift wishes. This unique tradition helps them prepare for the celebration of the Incarnation. And without fail, they've come together each year to gather 20 Christmas presents around their tree, as seen with the images captured by Violet Schuttak. One church member expressed, “I had never done something like this before – I mean, buying gifts for someone I don’t know. It’s kind of a deeper way to spread a little love.”  

    Faith in Action Volunteers ensures just that. 

    TAGGED / Communications / Connectional Ministries / New Faith Communities / Older Adult Ministry / Vital Congregations / Youth / Districts / Missional Engagement

    With more than 100,000 members, United Methodists of Upper New York comprises of more than 675 local churches and New Faith Communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our vision is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."