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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Why We Call Ourselves “Non-Sectarian”

Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS) is a non-sectarian and inclusive non-profit organization that provides residences and care to older adults and their families. Some people are surprised to hear us call ourselves “non-sectarian,” while the word “Methodist” clearly appears in our name. The explanation for what may seem like a contradiction, lies in our founding 125 years ago.

CMSS is non-sectarian, meaning we do not subscribe to any single religious sect or belief system. As an organization, we believe in inclusivity, care, and service. We believe in empowering those we serve to live their best life. We know a good life is based on many factors, including physical health, social and emotional well-being, and, for many, spiritual well-being. While our organization does not subscribe to one belief system, we honor the many faiths and beliefs of the people we serve and their families.

If you are non-sectarian, why is the word “Methodist” in your name?

CMSS was founded in 1898 by Alice Hartwell, a Methodist woman who attended Grace Methodist Episcopalian Church in Chicago. Alice

noticed that elderly members of her congregation needed care and a place to live. In the late 1800s, there were no systems in place to care for older adults – no Social Security or Medicaid support existed at the time, and families were required to take care of their aging loved ones. If seniors did not have children or a spouse who could care for them, they would often need to resort to living in the “poorhouses” of the time, which were known for their inhumane conditions. The lack of housing and care options for older adults led many religious, ethnic, trade/professional, and social groups to create some of the earliest old-age assistance programs in the United States. At the time, it was very common for religious communities to take part in providing homes and care for older members of their faith. Alice Hartwell founded The Methodist Episcopal Old People’s Home (which later became CMSS) as part of this response to the gap in care and housing options for seniors.

This letter (left) from 1900 was written by Pastor Emory D. Hull from the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. He was writing to the Superintendent at the time, Mrs. Isabelle Reeves, to recommend a member of the congregation to become a resident at CMSS. (Then called the Methodist Episcopal Old People’s Home).

Are you currently affiliated with the Methodist Church?

Our founder Alice Hartwell was Methodist. Since Alice’s time, many CMSS leaders, residents, donors, volunteers, staff, and friends have also been Methodist. Today our leaders, volunteers, donors, residents, staff, and friends include individuals of all beliefs and backgrounds.

CMSS recognizes and respects the work that our founders and many Methodist and non-Methodist individuals have done to improve older adults’ lives and make this organization what it is today. Next month, CMSS will kick off a celebration of its 125th Anniversary year. As part of our celebration over the next year, we will continue to share much more of this impressive history of care and the individuals who have been a part of our mission.

What type of Spiritual Care do you provide at CMSS?

We actively provide spiritual care as an organization dedicated to creating a good life for those we serve. This takes various forms. We employ a Chaplain who provides regular spiritual support to residents and family members. Over the years, CMSS Chaplains have provided inclusive spiritual care and they themselves have come from various religious traditions including Methodist, Covenant, and Jewish traditions. We are grateful to Berry United Methodist Church, which holds an inclusive dementia-friendly service for our community each month. We also partner with other local houses of worship to aid us in providing needed spiritual care based on the beliefs of individual residents.

Where does CMSS stand regarding the recent split within the Methodist Church?

As stated above, although CMSS has the word “Methodist” in our name and Methodist origins, we are not a member of the Methodist Church. In recent years, the Methodist Church has split over certain disagreements between factions, many of them centering around the rights of LGBT+ individuals.

CMSS supports the LGBT+ community and the rights of LGBT+ individuals. We are especially dedicated to providing services and care to LGBT+ older adults, many of whom face discrimination as they age. CMSS recently received SAGECare LGBTQ+ Cultural Competency Platinum Certification for the fourth consecutive year. Also, this year, CMSS’ Hartwell Place and Wesley Place communities received recognition as High-Performers on the Long-Term Care Equality Index – a national survey that aims to promote equitable treatment and inclusion for LGBT+ residents, visitors, and employees in long-term care communities.

Do I need to be Methodist to receive care, work, or volunteer at CMSS?

Absolutely not. CMSS residents, clients, volunteers, donors, and staff represent various backgrounds and beliefs. We welcome all individuals to be a part of our community.

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