A plethora of thoughts swarmed around in her head as she entered the church for the first time after her husband’s funeral. Charlotte Conway and her husband Bob had been members of the Sligo church in Takoma Park, Md. for 37 years—but now things were different. The familiar sense of belonging she embraced every time she walked into the massive edifice to worship was replaced with uncomfortable feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. Conway remembers sitting on “their pew” in “their spot” with tears flowing. Should she stay or, should she go home? The grief was overwhelming.
That was seven years ago. Conway says she’s coping better now thanks to HeartLifters, a growing ministry at Sligo that embraces surviving spouses and those who have spouses suffering from dementia. HeartLifters began two years ago with a simple conversation.
“Three of us in the church office realized that we had one thing in common—we all had lost our husbands. Two from cancer and one from Alzheimers,” explains Conway. “We had mutually experienced the loneliness of attending church without your spouse and the absence of socializing with your couple friends. So we decided to do something. We didn’t want to start a bereavement ministry—we wanted to bring hope, joy and love through a sympathetic ministry of compassion.”
Now, about 120 members participate in HeartLifters. “We visit home bound members, send cards, host a weekly prayer line, attend year-round social events and participate in life-enhancing workshops,” shares Conway.” Sligo’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry also participate in this ministry on Helping Day, a day young people step in to assist a HeartLifter with tasks at their homes.
The HeartLifters Ministry has a palpable impact. “My back would be so painful that I couldn’t go to church,” shared one member, who lost her husband, “but when I attended HeartLifters, my pain subsided.” Another member, Ruth Larsen thanked the group for remembering her on Valentine’s Day. She said, “It was the first Valentine card I had received since my husband’s death.”
Conway says she see HeartLifters as filling a real need to help those who are lonely in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, “Loneliness is one of the major problems of the world that has not been addressed. That’s particularly true in the United States. Aging alone is fearful as well.”
February 29, 2020 has been designated as HeartLifters Day at Sligo. Mike Tucker from Faith for Today will share his heartbreaking story of losing his spouse. On that day, he will be preaching for both worship services and present to the HeartLifters in the afternoon. Additionally, HeartLifters is offering an Essential Online Kit that will give instructions on how to begin the program in other churches. The group hopes the ministry will be a blessing to many across North America. For more information, visit HeartLifters.org.
*Feature image caption: Charlotte Conway (right) and Sheila Schlisner-Hendricks (left) introduce members and Visitors to the HeartLifters Ministry during Sligo’s annual homecoming.