There are some ministerial tasks that are surprising. Today I experienced one that is sadly all too common for ministers, but it isn’t something our teachers in seminary can easily teach us about.
I spent my morning at the home of a woman who lives near one of the churches I serve. Someone must have reported her to Adult Family Services. We’re not sure exactly how it is that Family Services became aware of her situation, but it’s a good thing they did. She’d received a warning in the mail. ‘Clean up the place or get out.’ And she didn’t know who to turn to so she came to us.
Now granted, her place is messy. And it would be less messy without the bird, but probably only a little less messy. Let’s just say the apartment is very full. And Family Services said they would and could send a cleaning crew on occasion if they could just get to the floor and surfaces (which we knew were there somewhere. We just had to find them.)
I know all this because I received a call from Mrs. Hartford, a Social Worker and a very nice lady. She said, “I’m calling about Helen”. (This is not her real name).
She didn’t have to tell me really, or even explain because I knew immediately why I was being called.
Helen is a ‘saver’. Yes. That is putting it mildly. I suspect that whenever anyone moves out of an apartment or house in the area, she is right there collecting what ever she can. Fortunately, four Saints from one of the churches I serve felt the same call I did to go over to Helen’s place to see if we could help out.
So we arrived in the morning with buckets, detergents, rags, vacuum cleaner, trash bags. We talked with Helen briefly, hoping she’d understand that we were just there to help. And then we prayed with her. I said to her, “You call the shots, Helen. We’re here for you. You’re the boss.” We asked lots of questions about each stack of linens, box of papers or object we handled, and we filled lots of garbage bags- not with garbage but with some of Helen’s precious stuff. It felt a little bit like we were removing a part of her. Her pain was palpable.
I believe we filled about twelve bags, mostly with clothing and linens, explaining that we’d take them with us, launder them and return them. As one of the saints moved toward the kitchen to gather up items we knew Helen could no longer use since she doesn’t ever cook or bake anymore, she became alarmed; understandably. It occurred to me that some of the stuff we were trying to remove was pretty nice but most of it was no longer useful to Helen. Or how many comforters does one person really need?
Helen is someone who loves to help other people. So I suggested we could take all the extra stuff and we could have a rummage sale at church. She’d be providing valuable goods for us to sell and then we could use that money to help the church help someone else! She liked this idea. She liked it a lot. And suddenly it was ok to throw items into the bag to go for the rummage sale. And it was ok to fill bags with linens and clothing to be laundered to either return to her next week or sell at the sale. And it was even ok to throw some things away. Helen has a very big heart. She always has. And it seemed like her mood changed. She felt as though SHE was doing something to be helpful to others.
We hadn’t planned on having a rummage sale at the church, but since we suggested to Helen that we would, well…. why not? Perhaps we can even put the money we earn into an account to use for her, to purchase a bed for her. She doesn’t have one. She’d probably like sleeping on a bed again.
What about the saints who accompanied me today; who reached out to help someone who needed to be cared for? They too are ‘accidental ministers’. It happens to the best of us. And the day was not at all what we expected. We worked really hard, barely making a dent in the job, but it was such a good and loving task for all of us. Most importantly, Helen was able to experience our presence and our concern for her.
We’re going back next Tuesday to give it another go.