Starting a Lay Pastoral Care Ministry Team 

A Lay Pastoral Care Team is a group of people dedicated to supporting people with specific needs. At a time when our population is aging, caring for older adults is especially relevant. This is an ideal ministry for laity as they often have long-term relationships with older members. And there is a role for people with different skills. Those who are good at listening and caring can be visitors. Those who like to DO things can buy or prepare food, schedule visitors, write notes, gather information and resources, serve as drivers, etc.

What’s important is that you have a team of people who can respond to needs in your congregation. Older adults are the primary recipients of pastoral care. But this can also extend to those who need a break from caring for someone who is ill or shut-in, those whose loved one has died or be with someone who has a chronic illness or disability.

Congregations cannot depend on the clergy to provide pastoral care. They do, of course, provide care when people are dying, struggling with death or an illness or need to speak with a priest. But routine visits to the lonely, sick, elderly, homebound, etc., are best done by the laity both because this us a core ministry of the laity and because there are more laity in a congregation than clergy so those needing care will receive it more frequently! Lay pastoral caregivers find that this ministry is deeply meaningful and that it usually deepens their spiritual life. The following notes are suggestions on how to start a lay pastoral care ministry in your congregation.

Recruit members of a team.  Look for people who are: 

  • Willing to make a two year commitment 
  • Are able to respect confidentiality 
  • Have some understanding of what they would be doing
  • Are able to devote two hours a week (or whatever amount fits your situation) 
  • Are good listeners 
  • Are willing and able to learn
  • Are able to work with others on a team 

 Recruit vs. Volunteer – it is hard to say “no” to an inappropriate volunteer 

  • Interview volunteers, knowing that you may need to help the interviewee focus on a different ministry if you likely already know this isn’t a good fit
  • Have adjunct tasks available that volunteers can do – sending cards/notes, buying or cooking food, serving as a driver

Develop a mission such as:

“Provide a ministry of hope and caring so that no member of our congregation need be alone?  We will visit the ill at home or in the hospital, support those going through a life crisis, maintain contact with those unable to attend church due to illness or disability, support friends and family involved in care giving, and comfort the bereaved(River Road UU Congregation, Bethesda, MD)

Provide training:

  • Build the team (c. 4 hours on relationship development, general discussion of what this ministry entails, the needs of older adults, etc.)
  • Develop skills (1 or 2 day-long workshops or several shorter sessions) on skills like: 
    • Visiting people in the hospital, nursing home, home, etc. 
    • Issues related to death and bereavement
    • The religious component of pastoral care
    • Importance of confidentiality
    • Knowing your limits
    • Communication
    • Active listening
    • Referrals and community resources
    • Extended training over time might include topics such as:
    • Dementia
    • living wills
    • advanced medical directives
    • CPR
    • options for retirement living
    • bereavement
    • depression
    • planned giving, wills that give wisdom/values
    • advanced medical directives
    • how to manage older parents

Decide what you want to and can do (start slow, build over time) 

  • Easiest to do is sending cards/handwritten notes or making phone calls
  • Next is coordinating and conducting regular visits — both Lay Eucharistic Minister visits and just visits to chat
  • Coordinate respite care for caregivers
  • Manage a buddy system for older adults living alone
  • Develop and manage a Medical Equipment Loan Program (this could be for a cluster of churches or, if you have lots of unused space, for the diocese’s churches) 
  • Help members moving to local retirement communities get connected with other Episcopalians there and try to find them transportation back to the church on Sundays 
  • Make hospital, nursing home or hospice visits
  • Support those going through life crises
  • Support members and their families with terminal illness
  • Provide information and support at the time of death and try to support the bereaved person for the following two years
  • Provide educational materials about living wills, advanced medical directives, retirement communities, support groups, etc.
  • Establish a Memory Café at your church or in partnership with other faith communities or agencies (

Meet monthly

  • Share experiences, ask questions, discuss best practices
  • Choose a book to read together or have someone do a presentation on a topic, demonstrate and practice a skill, etc.
  • Be accountable to one another — develop norms, best practices, policies, etc. and check in regularly to make sure everyone is observing them. Some examples are:
    • All visits are done in pairs — never go alone.
    • Take safe church training and review those practices periodically.
    • Don’t talk about what someone shared with you
    • Don’t reveal a diagnosis unless you have the person’s permission to do so.
    • Don’t create a dependency on you.
    • Make sure you are meeting the person’s needs, not yours.
    • Be discrete, polite and gentle.
    • Pray for the people you visit.
  • Spend time in spiritual reflection, Bible study and prayer. Pray for the people you serve and pray for each other.


Memory Cafes

What is a Memory Café? 
One of the most difficult parts of advancing neurocognitive disorders, better known as dementia, is the isolation felt by the individual with the disease and their care partner.
A Memory Café is an opportunity for individuals with all forms of memory loss, and their care partners, to meet others with similar concerns, socialize, learn new skills and support each other as they travel their path with dementia. The significant impact of providing care on care partners, in regard to their health, socially and financially, is an additional hardship. Memory Cafés help to bridge that hardship with resources, skills, support and friendships. The number one goal at all Memory Cafés is to have fun! Cafés are free and open to anyone with dementia, their care partners, family and friends. 
Statistics show that:
  • 1 out of 10 individuals over the age of 65 is currently living with some form of dementia.
  • 1 out of 2 individuals over the age of 85 has dementia.
  • 5.5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, only 1 form of dementia. (There are over 100 causes of dementia)
  • A new case of Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed every 66 seconds.
  • By 2050 the number of individuals diagnosed is projected to TRIPLE.
  • As of January 1st, 2011 more than 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the age of 65 every single day! And that will continue for 20 years.

Learn more about MemoryCafés and how to start one in your community at Dementia Training for Life.


Workshop materials from Leadership Institute on March 23, 2019

A ‘Parish Legacy Society’ as Planned Giving
How to create and nurture a Legacy Society, honoring those who name your church in an estate, a will or trust. Hear success stories about this and learn some innovative approaches to planned giving.

Click here for Planned Giving and other resources

Vestry 101
So … you are a new member of the vestry! What ARE your responsibilities related to the vision, leadership and fiduciary health of your church? Get support and training to become wise and empowered leaders, with practical nuts and bolts to make your vestry experience effective – and even fun!

Episcopal Church Foundation- Vital Practices

Roles and Responsibilities of Elected Leaders

_Vestry_101 Vestry Papers Issue

Improving your church’s online presence
What are prospective visitors looking for when they check out your church online? Learn about current best practices for your congregation’s Facebook page and website, and some things to avoid.  We’ll evaluate examples of great and not-so great websites in other parts of the country.

Wellness check for your church’s online presence

Online assets ownership worksheet

Resources for enhancing your online presence

A sample media and video policy with release form

Copyright Guidelines for Churches

Photo Release Template

Wardens Face Time with Bishop Knisely
Senior and Junior wardens, receive guidance and support about this crucial lay leadership office in our changing churches. What IS your role – as chief ecclesiastical officers – with the congregation, clergy and staff?

Show Me the Money: Old and New Guidelines for Treasurers
Church treasurers, you are not alone – so don’t do it alone! Money managers: Learn healthy practices of transparency and fiduciary responsibility essential to being a safe church. Also find out about potential sources of revenue — grants, loans and diocesan resources.

Click this link for Resources

HR: Hiring, Firing, Retiring … and Everything in Between
Hiring, firing and retiring can be done professionally and with grace. This session features education and troubleshooting for church leaders in the basics of personnel and human resource management for church staff.

Episcopal Church Foundation-Vital Practices

Employee Management Checklist

Model_Personnel_Handbook_for_Parishes — from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Human Resources List

Community-Building in an Age of Isolation and Division
Now, more than ever, our church has something urgently-needed and beautiful to offer society. How might we build new forms of intentional community and fellowship to offer healing to a divided world? Learn some fun ideas to bring people together and have a ball!

All Our Children-Partnerships between Church and Schools

Community Garden Help – URI

Blessing Boxes

Pastoral Care for Baby-Boomers and More
Pastoral care, with appropriate training and guidance, is a ministry of all disciples of Christ. Learn how to create, nurture and equip healthy congregational care teams. Train lay leaders now to meet the needs of aging “boomers” – and all generations.

Lay Pastoral Care Resources

Starting a Lay Pastoral Care Ministry Team

Memory Cafes

Eucharistic Visitors  (NOTE: order this resource at, select “pay by check,” use in your church name and address — the staff will see that you are a RI church and will zero it out so you can just ignore the invoice. This only works for the Episcopal Churches in RI. Call 800-941-2218 if you have questions or concerns.

Publicizing and organizing events in the digital age
What’s the difference between digital and paper-based approaches to publicizing events, and how can they work together? What determines what events get publicized in diocesan publications?  Bring examples of particularly successful and creative strategies you’ve used to add to our discussion.

Church event publicity

Lay Pastoral Care Team

Many congregations have a Lay Pastoral Care Team (or Pastoral Visitors) who make regular contact with members who are no longer able to be as active as they once were. They may make personal visits, telephone calls, remember birthdays and celebrate other important holidays. They also check on people in the event of natural disasters or if they learn of a health concern. And they are the clergyperson’s eyes and ears, helping clergy know when it is urgent for them visit someone who may need professional care.

Training is often provided by clergy or the diocese can schedule such training on request (contact Mary Ann Mello at the diocesan office). Team members can also benefit by reading and discussing books such as the ones listed below.

Pastoral Care to the Aged: A Handbook for Visitors by Neville Kirkwood is a nuts-and-bolts guide to visiting the elderly in a variety of settings, to offer pastoral care and spiritual comfort. Kirkwood offers readers a thorough overview of the aging process, including the challenges of dementia and a look at the unique emotional and spiritual needs of the elderly. This book offers help to those who want to make visits to the elderly more meaningful.

In A Hospital Visitor’s Handbook: The Do’s and Don’ts of Hospital Visitation Neville Kirkwood, a chaplain with many years’ experience, offers practical guidelines to make a hospital visit an experience that strengthens the bonds of friendship while nurturing the patient’s spiritual health. Included are tips on respecting the patient’s needs and moods, communicating effectively, following hospital protocol, and praying for—and with—those who are confined to the hospital.

Hospital Handbook: A Practical Guide to Hospital Visitation by Lawrence D. Reimer and James T. Wagner offers advice and practical information on how to understand the hospital’s structure, gain access to its systems, and establish a rapport with staff, as well as explanations of hospital protocol and etiquette. The authors also explore the emotional and spiritual aspects of illness, and specific information on the needs of particular kinds of patients, including children, adolescents, substance abusers, plus AIDs, psychiatrics, and terminally ill patients. Resources for prayer, scripture readings, and sacraments are included.


Starting a Walking Program

Walking doesn’t get the respect it deserves, either for its health benefits, its value for transportation, or its role in recreation. One of the easiest ways to exercise is to walk. A walking program can both provide an incentive to walk and provide companionship that increases the likelihood that people will walk regularly.

Medical Trust developed a guide for dioceses, churches and other workplaces to start a walking program. But the information here can easily be adapted to fit a congregation. And it is a program that fits younger adults and older adults alike. Churches can encourage walking by sponsoring a walk before or after worship services, setting up neighborhood or workplace walking groups, encouraging congregational groups to incorporate a walk into their meetings (perhaps even conduct the meeting while walking!) and simply encouraging individual to work more.

DOWNLOAD Start a Walking Program

Also available from the Episcopal Health Ministry organization is a curriculum which introduces walking as both a Christian spiritual practice and a method for promoting good health. The 12-week program allows health ministers to personalize and print learners’ materials for groups large and small.

DOWNLOAD Walk to Anywhere


Older Adult Checklist

Every 30 seconds someone turns 65. Is your church older adult friendly? The Older Adult Ministries Task Force compiled a list of questions to help congregations think about the inter-generational aspects of their church in reference to an aging society. The ideas range from the basic to more innovative and are meant to be thought-starters.

DOWNLOAD Older Adult Checklist