A morning stretch….’It’s good to feel our bodies, loved and beloved’. (this photo is precious!)
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 tangible.
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.
This is a stunning prayer, so true in so much of our lives. Sharing this along with heartfelt blessings to Mary Beth and her family.
Maundy Thursday Prep Party. From Martha Spong
O God, awaken me again to the beauty of the earth.
I offer you my sadness and lethargy,
the gray pain of a dull body averse to song,
affronted by color and flesh.
Like this, without feeling a thing,
I am yours.
Take my life and hold it in your hand
as one holds a small bird fallen from a nest,
wounded by wind;
and in your kindness, restore me
to the heaven of your abiding presence.
Awaken me again to the beauty of earth
and to thankfulness for my life upon it.
I ask through Christ, my Lord.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
When I was a chef, and a cafe owner, there were some breakfasts, lunches and dinners when we had few customers. As owner of that business I lost sleep at night, at times, wondering how we were going to keep going. Fortunately, God gave me a better idea. I received nudge after nudge encouraging me to go to seminary, to become a worship designer instead of a cake designer; to become a pastoral caregiver rather than a mentor to those wanting to know how to run a kitchen, a restaurant, a staff. Three years after I left, the cafe closed. I was sad when I heard about it, but once I’d left for seminary, I never looked back.
The funniest thing about being the former owner of a cafe and catering business is that every so often, even thirteen years later, someone will say something like, “I really miss Foxgrape.” Or “What a loss it is for Oberlin that Foxgrape is gone.” I like hearing these comments. They make me feel happy for having had the cafe for those 8 years. I most often hear these comments from people who were devoted regular customers, the ones who pretty much kept the business afloat. But I also hear these comments from people who seldom if ever came to the restaurant. And in those cases, I can’t help but think to myself, “Well, having your financial support might have made a difference.” Worry about money is simply draining, isn’t it?
When I left the cafe for ministry I gleefully thought to myself, “Things will be different now. This is what I’m being called to do. It’s going to be easier.” Does it surprise you to know that many people come to our churches and provide no financial support to them? Ask them why not and the response is, “I can’t afford it.” Sometimes, these are even the folks who make the most demands. These are often the folks who wonder why the church struggles to pay the bills. These are often the folks most opposed to searching out innovative ways to revitalize the church or want nothing to do with starting new ministries that involve helping the community outside of the church building. Why should this be so confounding to me?
When I first returned to church in the 1980s after years away, I didn’t give a penny to the church on Sundays. I also didn’t realize that this was one of my responsibilities as a Christian, to support the ministries of the church. In retrospect I realize I was foisting my responsibility onto all the people sitting around me in the pews.
If you had asked me I would have said, “I can’t afford it.” I didn’t understand that we all have a responsibility to do, not just a little bit, but the best we can do for the church, for God.
In our lives our first and most important obligation is to support the ministries of our churches. An Interim Minister was the one who talked about giving, enough to finally get through to me. She was very convincing. I filled out my first pledge card the year she was at the church. I finally made a promise to do my part to support the church and the ministries of the church.
I’ve learned to talk about money in the churches I serve. I can’t say that the people in my congregations love those talks. I never thought I would use the expression, “You know pennies don’t fall from heaven” as often as I do. I say that a lot. And some people have heard me and try to give more to support the church’s ministries. Many people have commented that their giving makes them feel very happy. But some people just roll their eyes. Others threaten to leave the church. Sometimes these are the people who have been raised in our churches. Their parents and grandparents were founders. But, unfortunately, their parents and grandparents were not so good at teaching how to properly care for the church. We in the church call this care “stewardship” of the church.
I have to laugh at myself now. When I left Foxgrape to go into ministry I naively thought my days of managing funds, making careful financial changes, and losing sleep over money had ended. Boy, was I wrong! Perhaps this is the main reason I’ve been called to the churches I serve. I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re saying, “Maybe you need to just turn this over to God.” And that is what I do, continually. But what I hear from God again and again is, “Pennies don’t fall from heaven, you know.”