Tag Archives: pastoral care

Simple Gifts

One of the calls to ministry that I recently have mixed feelings about is visiting homebound people. Perhaps it is the awesome responsibility of it. I realize that of the many calls a pastor answers visiting is one of the absolutely most important ones. It also happens to be a task that when I am in the midst of it, is not a task at all. In fact, it almost feels silly to be paid to do something that seems to bring so much happiness to the recipients, and such a feeling of contentment to me.

I always find that at the end of an afternoon of visiting I understand once again the gift of being a small church pastor, of being able to deliver some comfort.

The most important thing I am asked to do, I think, is to demonstrate the accepting and nonjudgmental love of Jesus while building relationships with the people in the congregations I serve, and also outside of these congregations. Relationships are built by a simple visit. When a member of the church I haven’t seen on Sunday for sometime or in some cases, haven’t ever even seen in church, finds himself in the hospital, and while registering has listed one of my two churches as his home church, I receive the phone call from the hospital about our member as a call directly from God to get busy with this one. And the visit that follows is always, always received with such gratitude. Invariably, as I end our visit with a prayer for God’s presence and safekeeping, the person I am visiting cries real tears at being reminded that he isn’t alone at all, and is loved and cared for. This is the very best gift of all.

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This is Not What I Expected

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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.

 

 

Waiting for my Friend to Die

            About a year ago, the woman who had been office administrator at the church I serve was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and after surgery, brain cancer. She was given up to a year and a half to live. I was with her when she started to forget little details. I was with her when she was in the emergency room and learned of a large mass in her frontal lobe. I’ve sat with her in the office and at home talking about the past and what the future might be like.

            As a minister I spend quite a bit of time with families  dealing with death. I have loved getting to know families after a loved one has died as we sit down together to share stories in preparation for a service of remembrance.  It’s a time that helps me get to know the one who has died better but I also get to know their families so much better too. It is sacred time. It’s harder though,  journeying through that death with an entire family.

            And this time it’s different. It’s harder. Denise was not just our office administrator. She is my friend. And I’ve walked this walk pretty closely with her. It’s been difficult. I can’t deny that, but it has also been an incredible gift, to journey toward death with someone who means so much to me. This experience, of course, has brought me closer to her husband, her daughter and her son. I’ve been given permission to step into their lives as they each deal with what is probably one of life’s most difficult situations~ caring for someone who slowly disappears as a devastating cancer takes over the brain.

            About three months ago or maybe it was six~ the time has gotten away from me, we sat down together, Denise and I,  and we started to plan her funeral, just the two of us. She wanted it simple, and not expensive. She insisted that there was no bigger waste of money than going all out for a funeral. I asked her if she wanted me to write her eulogy soon, so that I could read it to her before she died. She said yes, so I did that. She and Tom were both in the downstairs of their condo on the afternoon I arrived ready to read it to her. Tom looked a little stunned at first when I explained what I was doing, but once I started to read he seemed happy for being there. After I finished Denise looked at Tom and asked, “Are you crying, Tom?” Tom said that he was. I think that perhaps this experience helped the two of them. It may have opened a door that allowed them to communicate a little more openly about what was happening.

            The hardest part is to begin the conversation about death and about dying. It can become the elephant in the room, and the people who most love the one who is dying can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that this person that they love so much is dying. I know this because when my mom was dying thirty years ago now, we never even mentioned the subject with her. I think that experience may be what has pushed me to become pretty good at being with people who are dying. It takes practice, I’m afraid.

           Later, Tom told me that Denise had wondered to him what it would be like to die. He told her he thought it was probably just like falling asleep. You never know when it will happen. When you wake up you never remember what it was like to fall asleep~ you just go away for a little while. Death is like that, he told her, except that you don’t wake up again. But you don’t know that. He said he thought it made her feel better.