Smyrna church offers help via phone in pandemic crisis

Jennifer Burns, center. Submitted photo

During these times of uncertainty, Asbury United Methodist Church in Smyrna is offering pastoral help via telephone to anyone who may feel like they’re alone.

“We just wanted to find a way to give back or help those out in need the best way that we can,” said Jennifer Burns, homebound outreach minister for Asbury UMC. “We just didn’t want to sit back and do nothing with all that’s going on. We just wanted to do our part.”

With further restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Delawareans are living in a deeper state of social distancing, working from home, avoiding groups and limiting trips to the store to essential purchases and medical care.

People can call 302-223-4192 to talk to someone.

Ms. Burns said it’s a service that she provides for her patients in person, but due to the circumstances, she had to find a temporary solution.

“I usually go visit my patients and I can’t because all of the nursing homes are closed, so one of the responsibilities I was trying to do was sticking to the social distancing that we have been ordered to do,” Ms. Burns said.

“Most of my patients are senior citizens, so I’m not able to have the face to face contact with them like I normally do,” Ms. Burns said. “But we’ve been making it work. We just wanted to fill that gap and that has helped out a lot.”

“It just shifted the whole ministry,” she added. “If I can’t get out of my house and I can’t get into anywhere else, how do I do what I do around those guidelines and that’s been through the phone.”

Ms. Burns said the temporary solution amongst her patients has been successful so far.

“The response has been good, but fortunately with the senior citizens they don’t hear as well and I have a few patients with Alzheimer’s that really can’t hold a phone conversation, so that’s been difficult.”

She said the topics vary for every conversation.

“Most of the time it’s just regular talk,” Ms. Burns said. “Some have asked for prayer and even then, we’re praying for people that person knows. It’s interesting to see what they need and feeling them out over the phone, rather than seeing them in person. But I’m getting used it.”

She said she extended the service to beyond church members to include anyone who is interested.

Even though the reception has been slow, the people who have reached out to her have been appreciative.

“I haven’t really spoken to many people that I don’t normally speak with, but for the ones that have reached out they’ve been really receptive,” Ms. Burns said. “The topic of conversation is just about everything that’s going on and how people are dealing with it.

“People aren’t able to visit families or people in nursing homes, so they may call in and ask for me to speak to their mom or dad, just so they have another voice that isn’t them. But the response from complete strangers has been pretty slow.”

She said she believes some people may be hesitant to call in to talk to a stranger, but she wanted to provide the service to help everyone.

“I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything at all,” Ms. Burns said. “We just want people to know that we’re here for them.”

But just like everyone else Ms. Burns can’t wait until everything returns back to normal.

“I’m usually face to face with my patients,” Ms. Burns said. “Right now, it’s kind of like how all of the counselors have to switch over and do their jobs online with Skype and things of that nature, but most of my patients aren’t very tech savvy.

“I can’t go that route, so phone calls seem to work, but I just want to get back to visiting my patients face to face. I’m not a fan of this at all.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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