By: Canon Georgette Forney, AFL President
The Great Commandment – Matthew 22:36-39
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
As a new Christian attending a bible study, I remember the first time I read this passage, I thought how simple this makes being a Christian. Two rules to follow – Love God, and love my neighbor.
That seemed doable until I started asking myself “who is my neighbor?” Is my “neighbor” the people in the apartment next to me or the families living in the adjacent houses? Does it include people living across town, but in the same zip code? Who qualifies as a neighbor? While the Bible never explains in detail who we should consider a neighbor, Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, after the lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” indicates that it can be a stranger or someone in need of help.
I have found some of my “neighbors” are easier to connect with than others. Shared interests, kids around the same age, and members at the same clubs as me all make it easy to build relationships and love my neighbor. Regardless of this, it is important to remember the two things we have in common with everyone; we bear the image of God, and we are sinners!
As believers who are mission minded, and evangelical in obedience, I think we must be more intentional in seeking out the neighbors who need to hear the Gospel and feel His love. In particular, Anglicans For Life believes there are two people groups that are often overlooked when we think of our neighbors.
The first group is the elderly. Those over 65, 75, 85, or 95! Because we are living longer, most of us now know someone over 95. But how can we care for them, and love them?
Based on the 2020 census report, there are currently 338 million people in America. Of that, the Merck Manual of Geriatrics reports that 17% of the American population is now 65 years or older. This is a significant increase from 1950 when only 8% of the population was 65 or older. There are now about 6 million people over the age of 85. For perspective, consider that in 1900, 75% of our population died before the age of 65. Today, 70% die after age 65.
The other neighbors that are often overlooked are the widows and orphans – which in today’s culture, are referred to as single moms. We must see single women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and wondering whether they should abort, parent, or place their child for adoption as similar to the widows in the Bible. Their babies are today’s orphans, being raised in single families.
According to Census.gov, 25% of US households are headed by a single parent, and 86% of those families are led by mothers. In the US, as of 2019, there were 15.76 million children living with their single mothers, and 3.23 million children living with their single fathers.
Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, abortion legislation will be determined at the state level. If a woman lives in a state where abortion is illegal they will assume that they can’t have an abortion even though there are states that will still allow abortion. And that’s a good thing! We want that, but we also need to be available for those women and their babies, – both before and after birth. They will need neighbors who will love them, and I believe God wants His Church to provide ministry, discipleship, and practical support–especially as there will be more of them.
Typically, when we think of missionary work or evangelism, we envision going overseas, but I think it is important to recognize that sometimes God calls us to be missionaries in our own communities.
As we look at the two groups of people I noted earlier – the elderly and the widows and orphans – I would like to share some practical ways you can connect with them in an effort to open the door to God’s redeeming love.
For the elderly, many are dealing with loneliness and a fear of becoming a burden to others. In addition, aging bodies can create some physical limitations that younger folks take for granted, like driving at night. If events at your church end after dark, organize rides so they can attend. A priest in California has older people in his parish who mentor younger people. They help them learn how to grow in their faith, discuss things like Bible study styles, and learn how they were discipled.
Our local school district invites older members of the community to read to the kindergarten classes. Many children don’t have grandparents living nearby, so this gives them the opportunity to interact with older folks coming into their classes.
The elderly can be great prayer warriors, too. Visit them with a list of things that need prayer in your church community. Invite them to participate with prayer from their home. In other words, include them in the ministry of your parish. Do not dismiss the elderly in your parish by assuming they cannot contribute. Instead, recognize they still can, just in a different way.
We need to remind those in retirement that they still have purpose. Psalm 92:12-15 declares:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
But what about those who are in a more diminished mental state? How can we serve these neighbors? Most often, these people will be in a nursing home, they have become frail, and their memory is often failing them. They have dignity, they still bear the image of God, and we need to serve them with love.
However, depending on their mental acuity – it might be the perfect time to share the Gospel! All the distractions in life are gone and they have time to consider what eternity is – where will they go when they die? There are a lot of folks sitting in nursing homes that are very bored, staring at TVs, their mind is active, even if their bodies are not! They can receive the Gospel.
Nursing homes are, in a fact, great mission fields, and there is a ministry in the Anglican Church in North America called St. Lazarus Mission. (LazarusMission.org). They plant churches in nursing homes where the residents become the members of the church, along with staff members, the families of the patients, and the workers’ families. They have wonderful success in bringing people to Christ because they are at a place in their lives where they’re ready to pay attention and think about eternity.
For those who are in memory care units, it’s important to know that music is one of the few things that they will often retain. Betty, one of the dear ladies I cared for, no longer remembered my name, yet when I started singing the Doxology, she would join in. When she heard Amazing Grace, she’d perk right up and start singing!
Music is powerful and you can make it more fun by having your children’s choir visit the nursing home to recite nursery rhymes, sing worship songs, or Christmas carols. These are all simple things you can do to love your neighbor.
Let’s remind our neighbors that God is faithful in His love and care for them – regardless of their age. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah declares to God’s people:
Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:3-4
Now, let’s discuss some practical ways you can help today’s widows and orphans; the single moms and their babies, both preborn and born!
Remember, since Roe has been overturned, more women are going to be keeping their children, even in states where it is still legal to have an abortion. This means churches need to prepare to help both neighbors – the mothers and their babies.
First, I recommend doing some research related to support services provided by either the county or city, or other agencies and ministries for moms and babies in your community. Find out if there is a pregnancy resource center nearby. If so, visit it to learn what resources they provide to mothers, and ask what ways you and your church can help support them.
See if there is a maternity home where women can live through pregnancy and birth – can you offer to teach a discipleship class for them? Train them with a skill? Provide financial support?
If either a pregnancy center or maternity home doesn’t exist within a 75 mile radius of your church, consider starting one. There is an Episcopal church in upstate New York that has a pregnancy center right in their church building. It’s a wonderful outreach to their community.
Other ways your church can help single moms, include partnering with auto-mechanics in your parish so they can offer car repairs for free or at discounted pricing. At my church, we have a ministry called Side by Side, where parishioners donate gently used children’s and maternity clothing. The women of the church set up a gigantic closet in one area of the church building, and two days a week, women in the community can come with their children and get clothes for free.
Once a month, you can offer child-care on a Saturday or weeknight, this gives moms a chance to run errands alone or grab a coffee with a friend. A lot of churches hold diaper drives that provide mom’s with diapers from a pregnancy center.
Finally, include a simple announcement in your weekly bulletin or newsletter that states “If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, we are here to help you with non-judgmental support and care. Call our office or visit OptionLine.org to find a local pregnancy center. You and your baby are welcome here.” The message is clear that you are in a safe, non-judgmental haven equipped to help.
I’d like to close with one simple reminder, we are not going to be able to save every baby or help every elderly person, but I do believe God is calling us to try. The church must lead our culture in modeling care and love for our neighbors – especially the most vulnerable, which in my opinion, is the elderly and the unborn and their mothers.
I interviewed J.I. Packer in 2015, and I asked him what he would say about how the church should be helping women who are pregnant. He brought up the verse about loving your neighbor as yourself. He said, “Neighborliness, according to Jesus’ teaching is a matter of seeing the other person to whom you’re relating as someone of equal value with yourself. That means someone of infinite value to God. Someone who should be regarded as having infinite value in the community. And so, you protect, you guard, you preserve, you enrich a person. Furthermore, a person is a person from the moment of conception. I don’t mean the fetus is going to be a person one day, someday. I mean that from the moment of conception, we must regard the fetus as our neighbor. And that, in a pregnant woman, means that we have two neighbors, not just one.”
I appreciate the emphasis of the scriptures that I quoted at the beginning of this article regarding the great commandment. Do it in love. Love God, and love your neighbor.