Reverend Cheryl Parker helps the elderly stay spiritually well

By Angelina Miller
May 12, 2018


Over the past few months, the term “wellness” has been buzzing around on the news, in magazines and books and with all kinds of different media outlets. Both men and women, young and old, have been increasingly encouraged to dive into the active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.

The way the media portrays wellness may influence people to think that the term only pertains to having a healthy diet and being physically active. However, there are actually six different dimensions that make up the model of the wellness process. One should always be working towards being emotionally, physically, intellectually, socially, occupationally and spiritually well, especially during one’s elderly years.

Reverend Cheryl Parker works one on one with elderly people to help them achieve spiritual wellness as the Spiritual Care Manager at Saint Francis Life Center in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Wellness in general is very important to me,” Parker said.

Early life

Growing up, Reverend Parker was part of a very faithful family.

“My mother was a faithful member of the church, which drew me closer to wanting to understand where my own spiritual grounding was,” Parker said.

Parker attended many different churches of many different denominations to get a broad perspective of faith. Growing spiritually also helped Parker through many challenges in her life.

“In times of difficulty, knowing the scripture and praying and being around people who have faith was always very encouraging and supporting for me,” Parker said.

The yellow suitcase

When Parker was a young girl, she recalls her grandmother gifting a yellow suitcase to her.

“It made me think that I could actually travel, see the world, and go places that I had never been,” Parker said.

This gift was very meaningful to her because it led her to go outside of her comfort zone and become an international exchange student.

“The people that give the gift may not think it’s that big of a deal, but it can change the life of a young person,” Parker said.

Parker’s godmother also gave her a African American history book in the 7th grade, which was another gift that was very meaningful to her.

“In the 7th grade, most girls don’t want a history book as a present,” Parker said. “I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, but in college, I took my first African American class and ended up turning to that book for help. Then, it became extremely valuable to me.”

As one of the first African American nurses in New Jersey, Parker’s godmother only wanted her to have hope and promise for her own future.

Giving Life to the elderly

When Parker began as the Spiritual Care Manager at Saint Francis Life, she felt as though it was her calling to give the participants the same gift of life and purpose that her grandmother and godmother once gave to her.

In order to do this, she wanted to structure her programs in a way that would operate outside of the traditional church ways. As a Chaplin, Parker had lots of experience with visiting hospitals, nursing homes and so on. However, she longed to dive more into emotional and spiritual wellness at Saint Francis Life, to ultimately help elderly people find wholeness in their lives. Parker felt that this is what she was, and still is, called to do.

“With spirituality, the wellness aspect comes in with knowing who you are in Christ, what you are called to do, and being able to balance all of the other things in life, which is not an easy task,” Parker said.

After getting to know some participants at Saint Francis Life, Parker developed a better understanding of what they wanted from her as their Spiritual Care Manager. “They were looking for spiritual support, both inside and outside of the chapel, even though they were not in the chapel physically all of the time,” Parker said.

In order to meet those needs, Parker came up with multiple ideas immediately. These ideas ranged from a bible study, to a “Voices of Life” choir, to a monthly social event called “Chat and Chew.”

Bible Study

In Parker’s monthly bible study, elderly participants are invited to part take in a scripture reading and conversation about it. Each month has a different theme. Participants are encouraged to take their thoughts out of the study setting and bring them home for discussions with friends, family and others. Parker influences the participants to read and look at the “living word” not just as a novel, but about life as a whole.

Voices of Life 

In the Voices of Life choir, Parker believes that “everyone can make a joyful noise.” The only “qualification” to participate in the choir is for a person to be able to “open their mouth and make a noise.” In other words, the choir is open to pretty much anyone.

The choir sings in the Saint Francis Life Day Center with spiritual music daily.  This lifts their spirits in a fun way, outside of the traditional chapel setting. A real musician also comes in to play an organ for the choir as well, which attracted more people to join the choir recently.

“Music is away to touch people in their emotions and spiritual life,” Parker said.

Chat and Chew

At the end of each month, Parker invites participants to a “Chat and Chew” meet up, to talk about anything and everything going on in their lives over snacks and refreshments. In this setting outside of the traditional chapel, participants are typically more relaxed and willing to share their thoughts with one another. This is also a great way for participants to meet and connect with new people every month.

“I try to offer things that are very practical, so they can actually use them in life application,” Parker said.

Continuing the inspiration through Christ

“As the elderly participants age, they begin to recognize that they are in the ladder season of their life,” Parker says. “They think more about the future, their families, what is going to happen to them, and what they would like to give them as a legacy.”

Parker’s ultimate goal is to help the elderly journey comfortably and confidently through the confusing later years of their life. She positively influences participants to reconcile relationships and think about the gifts and talents that they have and want to pass on to others. She also aims to inspire young people to think about their past and what they have learned in their lives to live a better future.

“It’s not easy to have an aging body and to not understand everything that is going on with changes in your physical condition,” Parker said. “People don’t think about wellness until they don’t have it.”

As people age, they are not able to do some of the things that they were able to do when we were younger.

“You can choose to stay in darkness and in struggle, or you can choose to look for opportunities in the changes that we go through,” Parker said.

Parker plans to continue at Saint Francis Life for many years to come, to help those that are in their elderly years find a way to wholeness.

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Angelina Miller

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