by Rev. Margaret Marcuson for The Christian Citizen

It’s going to be a tough Christmas season with the need to be especially careful as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. How can you connect with the people in our congregations who need care and connection? In-person visits are still prohibited in senior living facilities in many places. No matter official policy, you don’t want to put any vulnerable person in your congregation at risk.

Let me offer one old-fashioned suggestion: get out pen and paper. Write some notes to the people who live alone, are homebound, or live in care facilities. It’s always been a good idea, but nowadays a handwritten note stands out because we receive so little mail that isn’t a bill or an advertisement.

If your intention is to help people feel included and remembered by their church, a note will have significantly more effect than an email. A Forbes article highlights several studies which show the greater impact of paper communication over digital: paper communication connects with our brains in a way that email doesn’t. In addition, older members may be more comfortable with paper.

Paper notes have a life that lasts long beyond the day we receive them. I have a file full of notes of appreciation I’ve received from people over the years. They mean a lot, especially on a bad day. After my father’s death earlier this year, I set the cards I received up in the dining room and experienced a sense of support every time I looked at them or reread the messages.

Still, you may wonder how pastors and church leaders can add letter-writing to the already big challenge of handling socially distanced or online worship or both for Advent and Christmas.

Here are a few ideas to simplify and delegate:

  1. Order stamps and note cards online so they are ready when you are and you don’t have to go shopping for them. You can order Christmas-themed stamps directly from the Postal Service.
  2. If you have a database and can create mailing labels, go ahead and do it. A handwritten address is ideal, but if labels make the difference between sending notes and not, use them.
  3. Ask one or more of your people who themselves live alone, are homebound, or in care facilities who are able to do so to write notes to others. This will help them to experience connection, and the value of being able to minister to others.
  4. Ask a board or ministry team to take on a specific group of people to write to.

5. Send Christmas-themed postcards instead of cards. (No envelope-stuffing!)

If you send a greeting card, do more than sign your name. Include a few sentences of support and appreciation for that person. That’s not a simplifying suggestion, just the opposite. While it is more work, your effort will significantly increase the impact of your card. Even Paul wrote a personal greeting at the end of the letter he dictated to the Galatians: “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11).

Let’s be honest: Writing notes to those most in need of care will take time and organization to do. However, it will be time well spent and will touch those lives through Advent, Christmas, and beyond.

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash