Landscaper tills aging soil with special Sunday ministry

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FULLERTON — For 21 years Frank Darrah's landscaping business has taken him beyond the contracts with area churches and convalescent homes. Tending plants has turned into tending souls as he ministers to people confined by frail health and limited mobility.

The man with a tender heart and hearty handshake has become the visiting pastor to three residential care facilities in Fullerton. On Sunday mornings he conducts worship services to Park Vista skilled nursing and Park Vista assisted living residents at Morningside, before leading a third service at Gordon Lane convalescent hospital.

"What Frank is doing is connecting these people to the Lord," said Bethel Shepperson, one of the volunteers who has assisted Darrah's ministry as a pianist.

She met the landscaper when her brother was a resident at Gordon Lane.

"The room would light up with energy as the people joined in saying the Lord's Prayer," Shepperson said as she described what happens during the church service. "It really registers hope for them ... that God can connect with them personally in that space."

Darrah's wife, Sharon, helps to pass out large-print song sheets the couple prepares for the morning. The 30-minute service that the landscaper leads in the care facility's activity center or lounge follows a traditional format with the singing of four or five hymns before he delivers a 15-minute sermon.

"For most of these people, this is their last chance to hear the gospel," Darrah said. "We want to provide an opportunity for them to respond to it."

For the elderly residents in Darrah's congregations — most come in wheelchairs or with walkers — going to church is nothing new.


Easing the grief
Russell Ball attends one of the weekly services at Morningside of Fullerton. The 90-year-old retired high school principal and his wife moved there to an assisted living apartment two years ago. She passed away last year after suffering a fall.

"I was absolutely devastated," he said as he talked about losing Toddy, his wife of 63 years. "For the first time in my life I was truly alone. Nobody seemed to care. I felt abandoned."

It was then he started to attend the weekly worship service led by Darrah. Ball said he now feels compelled to go.

"I've been a churchgoing person all of my life," he explained. "I need to be with other people."

Ball said that he never planned on living to the age of 90.

"I have more time to think here than I have had in any other situation," the retired educator said.

Fellow resident Betty Saunders indicated that she would not be able to go to church somewhere else. She attends because church has always been an important part of her life.

"He has a nice message every time," the 93-year-old Morningside resident said of Darrah's sermon. "It's short but he usually has a point to what he says."

Darrah cannot hide his passion for God's truth and shows himself to be well acquainted with Scripture. Yet his down-home manner seems to put folks at ease. He tries to explain biblical principles using a vocabulary tailored for his parishioners.

"God is a cardiologist," he said during a recent sermon. "He knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts." 


Sometimes serving solo
Over the years Darrah has had help from a number of outside volunteers who pass through his ministry in some capacity, oftentimes when they have a friend or loved one who resides in one of the three facilities he serves. Occasionally he leads the worship service by himself, a style he goodnaturedly refers to as "Frankapella."      

Although he attended church as a kid in the Midwest, the landscaper said he didn't discover true Christianity until he went to a men's retreat with the Anaheim Vineyard in 1979. He explained that his decision to give his life to Christ changed him overnight.

A Fullerton resident, Darrah began the ministry at Gordon Lane Convalescent Hospital in 1986. When some residents there moved to Morningside of Fullerton, they asked him to bring services to the new location.

"I never would have chosen this if I had had a choice in ministry," he said.

But, like those he serves, he is waiting for God's direction.

"Until the Lord moves me on to somewhere else, I'll be here."