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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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With a song and a prayer

If you enter Bellingham [Wash.] Health Care and Rehab around 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays you'll almost certainly hear Christian hymns resonating throughout the building.

The twice-weekly concerts are thanks to the Solviks — Neil with his ringing tenor voice, and his wife, Clarice, who plays the keyboard. For 11 years the couple, members of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Everson, Wash., has entertained the center's residents with songs, followed by a brief, informal sermon given by Neil.

The Bellingham Herald newspaper recognized the couple's work, calling the Solviks "rocks in the community" and volunteers "who have improved the quality of countless lives and touched many hearts."

Their ministry at the center started in 1990 after returning from several years of overseas missionary service in Nepal. Nightly they drove to the home to visit Neil's 87-year-old mother, who loved old hymns.

The center's social director heard the Solviks perform and asked if they would be part of the regular activities program for the seniors. They accepted.

Neil's mother died in 1995, but the Solviks continued their ministry.

Initially they wondered if Christian hymns would be accepted at a secular institution, but only one person has ever complained, they said.

Neil and Clarice have seen remarkable changes in several residents. There was Arthur, who had lost his wife and was in a deep depression. After attending the hymnsing a few times, he gradually emerged from his gloom, Neil said.

And there was Lavern, a man suffering from Parkinson's disease. He could hardly mouth any words at all, but somehow managed to sing every word of the last two lines of Shall We Gather at the River, Clarice recalled.

Residents often mistake Neil for a pastor, which he isn't. One resident asked him to conduct her funeral service and another allowed him to baptize her before she died.

"It makes you feel pretty good when someone is dying and you've been able to bring them into a right relationship with God," Neil said.


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