In creating a Pens and Pals ministry, an Alexandria parish nurse has developed a new tweak on an old tradition to better include people with special needs.
By Barb Friedrichs, member of St. Mary Parish in Alexandria
As I near retirement from my nursing profession, I have offered to do more for the church within the community of faith and parish nursing. I have experience creating new programs and have raised a family of children with special needs. My church asked me to think about how we could better serve people with special needs. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head and this is one of those times.
One day I was listening to a Minnesota Public Radio story on the value of pen pals and the bygone era of that concept. I had an “aha” moment: What if we did “Pens and Pals” within the church and formed a networking group in our Catholic setting that socialized with and supported members with disabilities?
I started working ideas through from every angle and came up with a program that we hope to kick off right after the first of the year in 2022. Since it has not started yet, we are in the formative stages collecting volunteer parishioners to be the “pals” for the parishioners who will partner and enjoy the inclusion ministry.
Here is what we have put together as a foundation for the program:
Pens and Pals Faith-based Program
Pens and Pals is a ministry to love and serve persons in our faith community with disabilities through adult faith formation by creating a trusting partnership between all abilities of adult parishioners. God wants our lives to overflow with mercy, love and compassion.
To recognize the need to offer inclusion in adult faith formation to parishioners with disabilities. The Pens and Pals outreach program will engage parish volunteers in partnering with persons with disabilities in a variety of any-age, any-ability activities. Activities may achieve service to others in need (i.e. homebound, shut-ins, ill).
Spiritual care: “Whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
• To provide friendship and inclusion to our parishioners with disabilities
• To build a bond between parishioners of all abilities
• To provide a variety of activities for partnered parish members to enjoy together (i.e. share a meal, color, cut and paste activities)
• To extend shared activities with other parishioners in need (i.e. colored placemats, cards)
The plan is to meet one night per month (on the first Tuesday of each month) from 5-8 p.m. in the Great Hall. We will share a meal, opening and an activity such as making cards for those on the parish prayer list and for special celebrations and also decorating placemats. The goal is to have one partner per participant.
We believe that a visit like this will:
• Help build a bond between persons with disabilities and the parish
• Help make a connection that eases loneliness and isolation feelings in the church
• Help bring comfort and inclusion
• Show gratitude to persons with disabilities for their participation in our parish community
• Foster awareness and involvement in principles of Catholic social teaching (human dignity, call to family, community, and participation) for all parishioners.