KANSAS CITY – Mike Crowell is a hand shaker. For six years, he’s shaken hands with people as he ministers at The Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility. Shaking hands with anyone right now – especially with those in such a vulnerable population – is a no-no, so Crowell has to adapt.
“I’ll just extend my hand, not touching any hands and shake it, and they’ll do the same,” said Crowell, a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty and a North American Mission Board-affiliated chaplain at The Gardens.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he said he’s just happy he gets to visit the facility in-person at all. Pastoral visits to most hospitals and long-term care facilities are on pause and at The Gardens, residents’ families aren’t even allowed to visit. In other states like Oklahoma, even chaplains like him aren’t allowed on the premises.
So Crowell happily dons a mask, gets his temperature taken each day at the door, and continues on with weekly Bible studies, worship services, and pastoral care – all while maintaining proper social distancing. He also gets an opportunity to minister to the facility’s staff – most of which are stressed to the breaking point trying to care for their severely at-risk clients who can’t even seen their own families. Sometimes he’s a supportive shoulder to cry on – again, from six feet away – and other times he gets to offer prayers for their needs and concerns. Other times, it does lead to opportunities to present Christ.
It’s business as usual, but also totally different.
“When you sing and when you preach in a mask, you definitely notice the difference,” Crowell said. “There’s a different kind of pacing when you’re breathing your own air and my glasses fog up while I’m reading. You just have to kind of maintain a sense of humor. But it works, you know. It really does work.”
Protecting the residents is a priority, Crowell said. During the month of April, upwards of 50 long-term care facilities state-wide saw residents or staff test positive for the virus that poses a particular danger to the elderly. Thankfully, Crowell’s facility has thus far had no cases. He asked Missouri Baptists to continue praying for him and the residents and staff he ministers to, especially for their continued safety and for God to open doors for meaningful relationships and Christ-centered conversations.