Celebrating AEMCH at its end

On Wednesday, December 2, around 40 people gathered in the chapel of St. James, Fremont, for the weekly midday Eucharist — this gathering specially to celebrate the work of AEMCH — An Episcopal Ministry to Convalescent Hospitals.

The Rev. Lori Walton preached and presided at the service, which was followed by a potluck luncheon. In her sermon Walton noted the “beautiful fabric of care and joy that came out of AEMCH — Christmas and Easter gifts, one on one visits for home bound, family support groups, education on elder issues, advocacy, worship services in and out of facilities.” Put simply, she said, “The churches of Alameda County showed up.”

On February 13, 1981, AEMCH was instituted as a chartered organization of the Diocese of California to serve the 83 skilled nursing facilities of Alameda County. All Souls, Berkeley, with its rector William P. Clancey, Jr., were key to its beginning. The ministry was launched with a service officiated by Bishop Swing at All Souls, and congregations throughout Alameda county got involved in the work of bringing light into the lives of those in hospitals. St. Mark’s, Berkeley; St. Alban’s, Albany; Trinity, Hayward; Holy Cross, Castro Valley; Christ Church, Alameda; St. Paul’s, Oakland; St. James’, Fremont – to name a few — were all active, early participants in the ministry.

The Rev. Arlinda Cosby served as the chaplain and coordinator from 1981 through 2007. The legend of AEMCH’s beginnings include Cosby accompanying Barbara Lyon to the Masonic Home’s skilled nursing unit when Lyon had laryngitis and couldn’t sing “Happy birthday” to residents as she usually did. Cosby’s husband Doug had been recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given six months to live. He did not go into convalescent care, lived another 22 years, and started visiting convalescent hospitals in thanksgiving for his own health.

About the ending of AEMCH’s work Walton said, “As times have changed and as the assisted care industry have seen an increase in community resources, and as the populations have come more diversified and the focus has turned to rehabilitation and short term care, the emphasis of AEMCH has seen it’s sunset. While there is still work to do, and while the need for religious presence to our elders and hospital-bound is very real, it will be realized in a different way, as it already is being realized in the connections created by AEMCH.”

The potluck featured signature dishes by long-term congregants of St. James, as well as dishes from AEMCH volunteers over its 35-year tenure. Photo albums of significant anniversaries were on display to perusal, too. AEMCH has ended its time as a ministry of the Diocese of California, but the work will continue in the congregations who have built relationships with convalescent hospitals. Look for information about a coming support group to care for caretakers.

Photos of the day are available on Facebook here.