1. What is a Boarding Home? Boarding homes are privately operated, for-profit businesses that house people who, for the most part, have been involved in psychiatric care. [BHM does not own or operate any of these homes, but secures permission to visit in them.] Valuable as they are as housing, they are so much more.
These homes are an immediate and wonderful source of Christian paradox – as is captured in the following painting by Carol Westcott.
Here we see the madhouse from Smart’s poem. Paradoxically, this house is a source of light and welcome. Its door is open, whereas the other homes do not really seem to have doors. It is lit, whereas most of the other homes sit in darkness. And so the madhouse – as it must inevitably be in the paradoxical nature of Christian community – is shown as the place of hope, welcome, liberation. It is filled with glorious light born of both God’s presence and the beauty of the residents. Delightfully, the very last place people might want to visit – is the very first place they should!
2. Who are the residents? The residents of these homes are children of the living God. They are blessed and a blessing. Residents provide a warm welcome for church visitors. They can range in age from roughly 18 to 90. Residents come from all walks of life. They encourage visitors with their wisdom, wit and spiritual insights. Many have come into the home after being released from psychiatric care. In any one home, there can be between six and forty residents. These people are brave in the face of their illness and the isolation they often experience. Such people are essential to our communion in Christ.
3. Who are team members? They come from area churches and agree to commit to their new community in Jesus. They are not “volunteers”. Volunteers are marvellous in their own right and serve their neighbourhoods well, however, team members are part of the body of Christ. To be part of a team is therefore a vocation. It is a holy calling. To be in communion with residents is part of our commission in God to embrace the world around us. Team members will be respectful of the home they are visiting and conduct themselves with highest Christian integrity.
4. When are the visits? These are arranged in consultation with residents. They can be of an afternoon or an evening and usually last one and one half hours. Most teams visit every second week.
5. What is the purpose of a visit? Teams and residents form a spiritual community. The purpose of these visits is to participate in a gathering where people and holiness are taken seriously. Together, the team and the residents flesh out the spiritual connection which already exists in the love of God.
6. Are the visits terribly sad? What with illness, and poverty, are the visits totally sad? No. Residents are charming and funny. There is a lot of laughter. There will be kidding and jokes just like in any company of friends. Affliction must be faced at times, it is part of life. It should, at times, weigh us down, and will. We can take it. But in a spiritual communion there can be more. And so, the tone of visits is usually quite upbeat. (No one is rolling about in pity.) On top of that, there can be that mysterious, gracious, God-driven joy, which may rise out of the sad realities of illness and poverty. Visits are alive.
7. Does the visit have an agenda? Team members do not visit as clinicians, social workers, psychologists or case managers. Therefore there is no clinical agenda to the visit. The real agenda was neatly summed up by one of the residents, it is: to celebrate God and people. And so, this new gathering worships, sings, talks of life’s issues, or sits quietly together and prays in an atmosphere which is relaxed, sincere, gentle and healing. Visits will not likely be healing in any clinical sense, but will help to heal emotions and gulfs that can keep us apart.
8. Who is responsible for the team’s ministry? BHM can assist a congregation in forming a team, but it is the congregation itself which accepts responsibility for the recruiting and supervising the team. The congregation takes ownership of this expression of lay ministry. The governing body of the congregation will embrace the boarding home visits as part of its overall Christian witness, and so the visits to the home are treated in the same way as youth events, church school classes, Bible studies and other congregational activities. The governing body will screen team members to insure that they meet the very high standards required for the proper care of vulnerable people. The congregation will help provide funds necessary for the team’s seasonal meals, activities and for other ongoing expenses.
9. What is Boarding Homes Ministry? It was founded in November 1996. BHM is a faith ministry and receives all its funding from churches, Christian foundations and private donors.
10. What can your role be? Please consider bringing the ministry to the attention of your church. Perhaps a new team can be developed, or, an annual fund raising project can be created to help further the work of BHM. Please pray for this wider ministry and for those beautiful people in our neighbourhoods who live in such homes. They have much to offer.