Holland Christian Homes as a Christian Institution

My mother’s entry into a public long-term care facility years ago was eye opening for my family. We had all visited ”Nursing Homes” often enough, but we didn’t have extended experience.

With only a few exceptions the care she received was generally competent and there were many small kindnesses shown to her. For that we were grateful.

The more difficult aspect of her stay had to do with things that staff did for her with good intentions, but also with a lack of awareness. Some who thought that my mother might be bored would tum on the TV in her room and put on a sit-com that they thought would cheer her up.

But those shows just saddened her. She was not a sheltered woman and she had participated in a number of community organizations through the years, but it hurt her to see immorality taken for granted on these programs, or greed laughed about right in her own room. She was so relieved when time and again my siblings or I would come in and simply turn the TV off. She did her best to pray frequently and especially at meals, but when others kept talking or staff would interrupt her prayers, it was difficult both for her and for us. She was so grateful for a very kind neighbour, and for some of the staff who shared her faith.

Such experiences were one important part of what inspired a number of people during the 1970s to work hard for the establishment of Holland Christian Homes, a dream that was realized with the opening of Trinity Tower in 1979. They envisioned a complex in which there would not only be worship services on Sunday and prayer at public meals, but where everything would reflect and encourage the Christian view of life that had always guided their parents. They understood that this was especially important because an entire complex like this becomes “home” for its residents.        A person can hope that their deepest beliefs and values will be respected in their home more than at a shopping mall or even a resort hotel. So this place was established as a Christian institution and it has grown with God’s blessing over the years.

But it can be tricky to describe the key elements of what makes an institution Christian. Putting the word Christian in the name and having some religious observances is important, but it is not enough. God takes delight when people acknowledge his name, but he is deeply saddened if we use his name as a surface veneer. The third commandment forbids taking God’s Name in vain. That is why the care and fellowship we offer anywhere in the complex must exemplify our very best efforts. It must reflect God’s own love and compassion. So then, what are department managers to do when sometimes the most qualified, competent and compassionate candidates for an open position are people who might not share the faith? In that situation our management over the years has been clear: we hire competent staff and then guide them to be sensitive to what we are all about. After all, the Bible demonstrates that God the Creator is pleased when people who might not know him well still do their daily work very well (Romans 2:14,15). Jesus also tells us that God makes his sun to shine and the rain to fall on the evil and the good, and that he wants his followers to reflect his own enormous patience and kindness to people who may not acknowledge him as God.

A couple of years ago I spoke with Ray Pennings who works for the Christian think-tank CARDUS based in Hamilton, where a number of Protestant and Catholics address some of the challenges of our time. He suggested that when thinking about what makes an institution Christian it may be helpful to organize our thoughts around the three words identity, ethos, and impact. By identity he simply meant that a Christian organization needs to think of itself as such. At this level it is important that the Mission Statement of Holland Christian Homes states that “we provide a safe, professional and caring community for seniors, based on traditional Christian values.” One of our core values is “Celebration of Christian Faith”. Our management works to keep these things prominent in all we do. At our birthday parties, we not only offer wonderful treats and entertainment, but we also take time to thank God for another year in the lives of all whose special day is being celebrated. Holland Christian Homes also makes sure that Catholic and Protestant worship is offered within the complex, and chaplains are encouraged to visit any apartment and room where their ministry might be welcomed.

By ethos we mean the way in which identity is translated into specific behaviors that characterize the organization in day-to-day action. There is a commitment to excellence and recognition that God is interested in more than pious activity. He made our bodies as well as our minds, our emotions as well as our imaginations, and he wants us to be blessed by all the riches of his creation. So an ample social life, neighbours caring for each other, happy folk songs, wonderful art, good care and therapy are all pa.it of the variety of things that please God.

And finally we need to measure impact. Some time ago our towers staff conducted a survey of those residents who benefit from our Assisted Living Program. They wanted to know what difference the additional help was making. Faithful service isn’t just a checklist of doing the right things. We need to know how it is working for everyone involved.

But, ultimately, we need to acknowledge that all of our best efforts cannot guarantee what is most important for any Christian organization. On this side of heaven, we remain finite and flawed people. We all know about what can happen with even the best laid-plans. We need the humility to acknowledge our human shortcomings, return to the Scripture for guidance, and to intercede with God and ask for his blessing and his direction. As we often say at the beginning of worship, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who created the heavens and the earth.”

H. Bruinsma