Since 2005, Rev. Sally Robinson has held weekly Bible studies and prayer sessions to connect with elderly people at five or six Columbia care facilities. That changed with the pandemic in March 2020, when the director for the Columbia Area Older Adult Ministry had to find different ways to serve her population.
Robinson has always enjoyed being around older people, even as a child. After working for churches in Iowa, she moved to Columbia in 1999 and became chaplain at what is now called Lenoir Woods, a retirement home. During her six years there, the company went through financial difficulties and a change in ownership, and Robinson was let go. This led to the creation of her ministry with the support of Lenoir and the Columbia community.
Kim Leon became the organization’s assistant director in July. She knew Robinson through their church, First Christian Church. “She is very caring and able to connect with people and meet them where they are,” Leon says about Robinson.
Now, at 60 years old, Robinson enjoys learning more about technology and has been experimenting with it throughout the past year. Robinson discusses her work and finding different ways to build companionship.
How has your work changed during the pandemic?
Other than the independent-living folks at Lenoir and at The Terrace retirement home, there’s only so many people I get to see. Of course, with masks, social distancing and everything, I have not been able to go into any long-term care or assisted living places since last March. Kim and I alternate weeks where we write a devotion that I send to their life enrichment directors, and they share them however they do in their communities. I call and talk on the phone with some folks.
What are some challenges you’ve faced over the past year?
Just being able to do ministry with people. So much of ministry is being face-to-face, holding hands and hugging people when they’re hurting and praying with them. It’s hard when you can’t get in to see them.
What are some key items you hope to help older individuals with within your ministry?
To just continue to walk this journey that we call life with them. Be there when they need a listening ear or someone to sit with them while they grieve over the death of a loved one or diagnosis. To continue doing Bible studies and help them with their faith journey.
How did you get into ministry?
I grew up in the church in Mexico, Missouri. I ended up at Culver-Stockton College as a religion major, and one of my professors told me to go ahead and be ordained as a minister. That way, I could still be in ministry if I got tired of working with youth and Christian education things, which was a good piece of advice.
What do you want Columbians to know about the older population in our community?
They have a lot of wisdom that they can share with us. We shouldn’t throw them by the side of the road and ignore them. They have a lot they can still offer. Allow them to be in conversations.
How are you able to maintain a sense of joy despite some of the harder aspects of COVID?
I try to be upbeat when I’m around folks. We laugh. It’s hard to know if people are smiling because everybody has a mask on. I continue to listen to them with their concerns and help them maybe see the brighter side of what’s going on.