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CALIFORNIA CHURCH'S "TELECARE"
October 19, 2001, SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- At St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, a simple, ongoing telephone outreach ministry is helping connect and support members in the wake of September 11. The "TeleCare" ministry has been especially meaningful for one of its volunteers, whose New York City-based company lost 87 people when the World Trade Center collapsed.
TeleCare is the brainchild of the Rev. Fran Sweet and the Rev. David Davidson, who pioneered the program at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 1992. The Rev. Nancy Brown, a lay member of the St. Patrick's TeleCare team the second year it was in operation, introduced TeleCare to St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica when she joined the staff there in 1998.
Every six months for the past three years, TeleCare volunteers at St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church have phoned each of the congregations 250 member families, and said, "Were just calling to see how you are and whether theres anything you want us to pray for," according to Gretchen Haight of Brentwood, Calif. A hospital chaplain, she is TeleCares coordinator.
Two three-member volunteer teams spend one hour one evening a month at the church, making calls and then praying together for each person contacted, naming each joy and concern. TeleCare "is a quiet ministry, but it has mattered a lot," Mrs. Haight said. It helps keep St. Augustines far-flung, busy urban congregants connected, and people "appreciate the call, often saying it came just when they needed it."
Since September 11, St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Church has held special services, sponsored a weekend family retreat and, on October 10, activated its fall round of TeleCare calls. The three-member team "on duty" included Gretchen Haight and her husband, Peter.
President of the California office of Fiduciary Trust Company, Mr. Haight had worked on the 94th floor of #2 World Trade Center in New York before transferring to the Los Angeles office in 1984. He counts 25 close friends and colleagues among the companys 87 employees lost when the World Trade Center collapsed. 560 employees survived.
The three-member TeleCare calling team reached about 40 families in all on October 10. "About half the people I talked to knew that Id lost friends, and they were asking all about me," Mr. Haight said. "It was very much a two-way thing. I felt supported by them, and I was really glad to be able to reach out as part of a prayer ministry. For me, it was very helpful."
Reported Mrs. Haight, "Usually we get an answering machine two times out of three, but this time, almost everyone was home. Everyone appreciated the connection."
The callers discovered that "the events of these past weeks weave in and out of our personal lives," she said. For example, one person asked prayers "for all my friends in New York, and for Grandma, who is in a nursing home," Mr. Haight said. Another, whod struggled with a heavy workload for a couple of years, was feeling all the more weighed down by the September 11 crisis. Others asked prayers for innocent Afghans for a friend whod just been fired for hearts "open to what is occurring day by day."
Dr. Margaret Kornfeld, a pastoral counselor who addressed the National Council of Churches Executive Board in New York City on October 1, cited TeleCare as a good example of existing ministry "infrastructure" that effectively meets needs in extraordinary times. She urged religious leaders "to find out whats already working in your communions" and build on it in response to the current crisis.
Mrs. Haight said she was really glad TeleCare was already well established before September 11. "If we had thought now to set up TeleCare, it might have felt intrusive at worst and odd at best. In each round of calling during the past three years, people have become more familiar with it.
"The first time we called, we were explaining what TeleCare was. Each time, there has been more acceptance of TeleCare as a way of communicating." With the September 11 crisis," she said, "theres been another jump in peoples openness. Theyve been broken open by anxiety and needing help, and are more willing to talk about it and to ask for prayers."
She added, "I dont want people to think its a really big thing. Its low maintenance. Thats the nice part. Its how I think we ought to live checking in with people in your community. Its beauty is in its total simplicity and lack of presumption."
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