Editor’s note: Nov. 13 is Orphans and Widows Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – With this upcoming Sunday (Nov. 13) marking Orphans and Widows Sunday on the SBC Calendar, Southern Baptists are reflecting on the important ministry of caring for widows.
The emphasis Sunday is on of James 1:27 which reads: “pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (CSB).
For Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., caring for widows has become part of the DNA of the whole congregation.
Greg Swack’s title at Eastwood is officially pastor of adults, but his primary ministry centers around the church’s senior adult group, which they call “baby boomers and builders.”
He told Baptist Press the group is very active, including a monthly outreach where they deliver meals to those in need.
Even as senior adults are finding ways to serve their community, Swack finds ways for the rest of the congregation to serve them, particularly the nearly 100 widows that are a part of the group.
The main way the church cares for the widows consistently throughout the year is through its deacons. Each deacon is assigned a handful of widows to watch over and be responsible for.
Elements of care include making regular phone calls, providing transportation and completing yard work or household projects.
Swack said having the ministry start with the deacons is an intentional way to show the priority of caring for widows.
“That verse in James is pretty straightforward, and we need to take that seriously as a church,” Swack said.
“I believe it shows the maturity and the depth of the church and its people if they are doing that well. I think it’s very important just as it was during the time period of the Bible that widows are cared for, helped and supported within the church.”
In addition to this consistent care, Eastwood’s deacons also lead church-wide efforts to minister to widows at specific events throughout the year.
They also organize physical service projects at the homes of widows and widowers, enlisting volunteers for a week of service projects in both the spring and fall.
Also in the spring and fall, the deacons hold a banquet for widows and widowers. A catered meal is served, and guests have the opportunity to take a ride in classic cars in the parking lot.
“Our deacons are phenomenal, and I can’t brag on them enough,” Swack said. “These events are where our deacons put their money where their mouth is and put that together as a way to say we love you and provide a special time of fellowship.”
The Southern Baptist Convention as a whole makes caring for widows a priority. In fact, it was part of the original ministry assignment of GuideStone Financial Resources when it was founded as the Board of Ministerial Relief and Annuities in 1918.
“Since 1918 Guidestone has been on a mission to provide dignity to retired ministers and their widows,” said Aaron Meraz, director of Mission:Dignity at GuideStone.
“We are fulfilling the biblical command to take care of widows in their time trouble according to James 1:27. We are so thankful to be able to do this because it is such a blessing to them. Widows are our heart, and they are our heart because they are God’s heart and they are his widows.”
Mission:Dignity is an initiative from GuideStone which provides financial assistance to retired ministers and their widows.
Meraz said of the nearly 3,000 people Mission:Dignity serves nationwide, between 65-75 percent of them are widows of retired Southern Baptist pastors.
Financial support is offered in the form of monthly honorariums, Christmas checks and a fund for emergency needs.
Meraz said fulfilling this ministry assignment comes down to being obedient to God’s commands.
“This verse is rooted in Old Testament verses that talk about God being a defender of the widow, so we as believers should be defenders of widows as well,” Meraz said.
“We should wrap our arms around the widows, especially those of our pastors because they were involved in ministry just as long as their husbands were. We ought to not only be praying for them, befriending them, loving them but also providing for them.”
He added it is important for the SBC to not only care for widows, but also to appreciate the spiritual leadership and wisdom they can still provide.
“The widows that we serve continue in ministry in some form or fashion,” Meraz said. “They play the piano for their churches, they keep nurseries, they teach Sunday school and they serve in hospitality ministries.
“Ministry is in their blood, and they give back in so many ways. They are not finished with ministry just because their husband has passed away. It is a joy to walk alongside them as they walk through these final years in their life giving all that they can for the Gospel to be advanced.”