Forest Hills UMC’s Sanctuary Respite Ministry offers hope to those living with memory loss diagnosis

11/4/2019

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Dianne Roberts had prayed the same prayer for nearly 10 years.

“Church, do something.”

Her husband of 52 years, Marvin, suffers from corticobasal degeneration, a progressive neurological disorder and cognitive illness similar to Alzheimer’s. A former certified public accountant, Marvin is no longer able to speak, and Roberts, a teacher, retired to care for him.

“He is able to do a lot of things, but he does need some help,” she said. “I really prayed for a long time for a place for him to be able to go that would be appropriate and what we expected from care and that was the right environment and atmosphere. I was in despair because there was nothing.”

Her prayer was finally answered this fall when Forest Hills United Methodist Church opened the doors to Sanctuary Respite Ministry, its new respite care ministry in Macon, Ga.

Launched Tuesday, Sept. 17, the program serves those living with a memory loss diagnosis like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers. Four hours a day, three times a week, they sing, exercise, play games, pray, and talk.

At Sanctuary Respite, Marvin finds community, compassion, fellowship, and fun. Roberts finds hope, peace, and answered prayer.

“The disease has taken the front part of his brain, so we don’t get to talk about it, but he feels their acceptance,” Roberts says of the time Marvin spends at Sanctuary Respite. “It’s a place where he feels accepted and loved, and they love him.”

When someone has a cognitive illness, the world shrinks and they often become isolated. Unable to keep up with and participate in conversations, they have fewer opportunities to fellowship and socialize, Roberts said. Sanctuary Respite offers Marvin a place where he can be accepted as he is while socializing and participating in appropriate activities.

“They’re laughing and playing games and having fun,” she said. “It’s met a need in my life, it’s met a need in Marvin’s life, and I don’t think we have any idea how far reaching it is except that, for me, it is new life.”

Modeled after Montgomery (Ala.) First United Methodist Church’s Respite Care Ministry and Isle of Hope United Methodist Church’s Hope Arbor respite care ministry, Sanctuary Respite was birthed out of a faithful congregation taking one step at a time, saying “yes” to God calling them to care for their community.

“We were poised to do this,” said Rev. Teresa Edwards, associate pastor of Forest Hills UMC. “We had the space, we had people, we could find the resources. It was huge, but doable. God was going to provide for this; we just had to look around and open ourselves up to it.”

The only respite-style ministry in Macon, Sanctuary Respite’s program runs Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and costs $40 a day.

And no matter whether a volunteer, participant, or caregiver, everyone is a “friend,” says director Leigh Hinton. All wear street clothes and the same style name tag.

“When we’re there, everyone is the same,” Hinton said. “We’re all the same when we’re at Respite.”

Each friend is warmly greeted as they walk through the sanctuary doors. Coffee is brewing, music plays in the background, and there’s a party-like atmosphere. The group plays games like life-size Jenga, cornhole, and Wheel of Fortune, and each day ends with volleyball. A hot lunch from local restaurant Jeneane’s is catered, and they eat together, like a family.

“Sanctuary Respite Ministry is giving people who are living with a memory loss diagnosis a place to be loved and accepted exactly as they are and an opportunity to enjoy and engage with other people,” said director Leigh Hinton. “There’s nothing wrong with a caregiver needing to go and be enjoyed just as they are, too. That’s what Sanctuary Respite Ministry does; it provides an outlet for both.”

For Rev. Edwards, the ministry is a natural fit for the Forest Hills UMC congregation. There was an immediate response when volunteers were requested, people are sharing their talents with the ministry, and others in the community are joining in.

“This is ours to do. If we aren’t going to do it, who is? It was as much a feeling that God was calling us to do this as anything,” she said.

The Roberts make Sanctuary Respite a priority in their week, scheduling other appointments and activities around their Tuesday and Thursday Sanctuary Respite days.

It’s a blessing for others to love her husband, she says.

“It’s unconditional acceptance that comes through Jesus, that’s all it is. The hearts of these people, they are genuine. This is an answered prayer.”

If you have a story of how God is using your local congregation to transform the community, please contact kara@sgaumc.com. The South Georgia Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.