Friends of Kirkwood: Eucharistic Visitors from Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church

By Sarah Sexton | Publish Date June 04, 2024

Article by The Rev. Katherine Harper, Associate Rector for Pastoral Care & Liturgy, Saint Stephen’s; Saint Stephen’s Spring/Summer 2024 Magazine, The Art of the Word

Pastoral care means meeting people where they are in life—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On Sunday afternoons at 3:30, it takes the form of a devoted group of parishioners bringing a Eucharistic box of bread and wine consecrated at the Saint Stephen’s altar to residents at Kirkwood by the River. Ministry at this local retirement community began nearly four years ago, when Kirkwood resident Elizabeth Downs, a Saint Stephen’s parishioner, was unable to get to church regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another Saint Stephen’s member, Jill Hunt, began delivering Eucharist to Elizabeth on a weekly basis. Elizabeth reserved a room on Sunday afternoons and invited other residents to join in praying and receiving the sacramental meal. Attendance grew from two to four to six—and soon they required a larger space. Elizabeth moved the gathering to Kirkwood’s chapel. Jill Hunt eventually invited two other Saint Stephen’s Eucharistic ministers, Connie Hancock and Jill Lunsford, to join her. Clergy also occasionally rotated into the mix, yet it was the prayerful dedication and investment of laity that truly empowered the growth of this ministry.

Because Jill, Connie and Jill have faithfully attended to this darling group, God’s love continues to bless others at Kirkwood. Today 15 or more residents, often including members of other Episcopal churches and other denominations, participate. More Eucharistic ministers have stepped in to serve, and beginning in 2022, I invited clergy from other local Episcopal churches to join, because the ministry is too beautiful not to share. Clergy from Saint Luke’s, All Saints, and Saint Mary’s-on-the-Highlands currently are part of the rotation.

The order of service is simple and follows much of what we say and do in the Nave during Sunday morning worship, except there is no music. The residents volunteer to read the Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle. The Eucharistic visitor reads the appointed Gospel passage and summarizes the sermon proclaimed earlier that day. Another resident reads the Prayers of the People. Those in attendance look forward to sharing holy time together. Family members and caregivers of residents also come along to pray on some Sunday afternoons before dinner begins around 5:00.

Sharing God’s love and the gifts of Eucharist with the Kirkwood residents “fills my soul bucket,” Jill Hunt says. “They bring such joy to my heart. When I need a spiritual boost the most, they lift me up.”

Connie Hancock recalls the joy she saw in the faces of the residents during her first Eucharistic visit to Kirkwood. “Bringing church to them is important. I can feel the presence of God in that space with them.”

“There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit fills the room,” Jill Hancock says. “I can see it in every eye and feel it in every hug. The people at Kirkwood hold a special place in my heart.”

This ministry that began simply, with one Eucharistic minister answering the call to visit one parishioner, has grown into a precious gift that continues to bless Kirkwood residents and Saint Stephen’s parishioners alike. God’s love is like that.


The Residents

Our residents come from different backgrounds and bring their unique qualities, talents, and life experiences to complete the Kirkwood community. Here are just a few reflections from some individuals who call Kirkwood their home.

My time at Kirkwood was spectacular; they taught me how to walk again. The staff was outstanding, and the care was beyond reproach. When I arrived, I had a long way to go. I was very sick. The first night, they had to lift me as I could not move by myself. When I left, they were chasing me down the hallway. They taught me how to perform the activities of daily living again. It was the best care I could have prayed for, and on top of that, the food was spectacular.

Eli Gold Past Resident

I fell in love with the cottage and the view from my back porch. I am excited to have a yard for Ginger, my poodle, to play in and my own garage, all within an established retirement community!

Charlotte Hamilton Current Resident

My husband and I looked at a number of places when deciding to move to a retirement community. For the most part, we found communities that said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ But Kirkwood was different. It wasn’t just about taking care of us. It was also about having fun, having friends, and living life to the fullest. The attitude at Kirkwood was positive and the atmosphere was comforting. We simply couldn’t resist. Without a doubt, the location was ideal. The Cahaba Room that overlooks the river, the mountains, the trails – there were just so many things about life. The community was lively. It was alive.

Alice Brooks Current Resident

We realized we were approaching an age where we might need more assistance than what just downsizing could provide. Knowing we have my sons nearby and the levels of care should we need it is comforting, and the beautiful hillside, river, and the woods makes it that much more appealing. We don’t know of any other community that has the woods, the various levels of care, and so many different amenities.

Phyllis and John Guschke Current Residents

We were moving my parents down from the Cleveland area to be near us. I looked at almost every retirement place in the Birmingham area. The second I turned into Kirkwood’s drive and drove up the hill, I knew that I’d found the perfect place for my parents to live in Alabama. In the six years that my parents have been at Kirkwood, I have always felt nothing but love and helpfulness from every staff member. Everyone is always helpful with a pleasant attitude. You can truly see and feel the family atmosphere. I’m happy that my parents can call Kirkwood their home.

Brenda Sheehan Kirkwood family member

When we learned that Cedar Ridge was being developed, that seemed to fit our needs very well. It is the ideal place for the next phase of our retirement.

Carol and Arthur Stephens Current Residents

One thing that we feel is very important here at Kirkwood by the River is the relationship that we have between the staff and the residents. They are dedicated to making our life here as safe and secure and pleasurable as possible. That goes a long way.

Fred Rogers Current Resident

The community's cottage living surrounded by a wooded, natural environment with access to future healthcare services is what attracted us to Kirkwood!

Rick and Jane Ricketts Current Residents