When Archdeacon Keith Osborne left parish ministry last year, he had no real intention of actually retiring.
“I told the bishop I would be available for anything,” he said.
The long-time priest in the Parish of Pennfield is now the archdeacon of Saint John after the Rev. Canon Stuart Allan’s retirement. In addition, he will be speaking at the pre-retirement conference in late April, guiding other priests on the path to retirement, or semi-retirement, as is his case.
“I guess I am considered a success because I found a job after retirement,” he said. “But it really found me.”
Since last October, Keith has been spending 10 hours a week leading an innovative ministry to Anglican seniors in the Saint John area. He visits seven nursing home facilities and would like to expand it to special care homes as well.
Those seven nursing homes house at least 75 Anglicans. Some have Alzheimer’s but still recognize the collar. Parishioners are happy to see him, receive communion and chat.
“There is so much need for attention,” said Keith. “We’ve really hit on a dire need. They share how they’ve been cut off. They miss their church.
“I really thank Stuart Allan for his initiative. It was all his idea to reconnect with Anglicans. They’ve fallen out of touch.”
Stuart applied for and received funding from the Finance Committee and Diocesan Council using money from the Dorothy Wilkes bequest. The Parish of Coldbrook-St. Mary, Keith’s home parish where he serves as honorary assistant, administers the funds for the three-year project.
“They wanted to try it out and see how it works and if it would be a viable ministry,” said Keith.
But he already knows the answer to that question.
“A lot have been in hospital for who knows how long,” said Martha McGrath, who works in the spiritual care department at Loch Lomond Villa in Saint John. “They are out of touch with their parish. When they know you’re coming back, they make a connection. It’s a bond.”
Martha works closely with Keith at Loch Lomond. She has a team of eight volunteers, including Keith, who deliver spiritual care to residents.
“A lot of ministers come in to do services, but Keith is here for one-on-one. He’s here to establish relationships,” she said. “That’s different. And I hear from the staff how important that is.”
Keith does do services, and he finds both Anglicans and others happy to see him and attend.
“They see someone with a collar on and they’re drawn,” he said.
Keith is training a team of 10 laypeople from four parishes to join him in the ministry. It was at the fall Greater Chapter meeting that the Rev. Steven Scribner of Trinity came with four names for Keith. Others at the meeting talked to Keith and the team was formed.
“It’s basically how to interact with nursing home residents,” he said. “How to focus on really confirming they are being loved and supported.”
Part of the training is introducing volunteers to the staff and choosing a nursing home, because having the same person visiting is vital to forming those relationships.
The ideal volunteer is one who feels called, said Keith.
“People who feel they have the confidence to meet a complete stranger and form a relationship, share their faith, but mostly it’s someone with empathy and compassion.”
Keith sees his skills and experience as a good fit for a ministry to seniors.
“I think I have a pastor’s heart,” he said. “It’s one of my strengths — to support people in their need, whether it’s sickness or whatever.
“I guess I gravitate toward that sort of thing — trying to encourage and support.”
Keith will give a report each year, and after three years, it will be up to the diocese whether the pilot project continues, though he hopes it will expand rather than end.
Until then, Keith will show up each week at the seven nursing homes with a list of Anglican residents and a home communion set to meet the need, help curb the loneliness and reconnect with parishioners and others.