Friday, July 6, 2012

Belonging, Even When We Don't Know It.

The gentleman in the wheelchair looked suspicious when he asked, "What church are you from?"  When I responded that SpiritCare was non-denominational, he pressed further.  "No," he replied, " I want to know what church."  I told him I was ordained United Church of Christ.  
He refused communion.  "You are not of the The Church," which not surprising, turned out to be his denomination.  "There is only one church and you are not part of is not it."  He wheeled away.  
As I looked around at those gathered in wheel chairs and gurneys, I became acutely aware that I have been walking into that crowded multi-purpose room, turning off "The Price is Right," and jauntily saying, "Good morning, everyone!"  for close to five years.  Many of those gathered that morning I have known since the first day I walk in.  I look around to see that both Francisco and  Estelle have begun their personal rituals of standing to take communion, no easy feat for either of them.  They both slowly come in on walkers and immediately sit down, but in the moment of communion, they courageously leave their chairs and stand.  I noticed that the two activity assistants were taking a few quiet moments to simply sit and listen to the pianist.  Gentle Leona, who is over 90, was dozing, but I knew she would not be happy if I passed by without waking her.  David was patiently sitting and waiting with his mother, as he does every day.  Virgil was raising his hand, letting me know he wanted to take communion, and the sooner the better. The room was full with believers of various faiths, of no faith, of lost faith.  Of found hope, and of lost hope.  Of acceptance and frustration.  The heroic and the disheveled. Of all that we humans are, and all that we are not.  That is indeed church, whether you are in a cathedral, a chapel, a skilled nursing community, or in the park.  Wherever people are gathered,  there the living Christ can be found, and fortunately for all of us, the living Christ is neither arrogant nor squeamish.          
Afterwards we began to sing our song of thanksgiving which was Amazing Grace.  I was surprised to see that the gentleman was back in the room.  This time, however, the dark scowl was replaced by a radiance.  He seemed to be transported by the music.  He looked happy.   Then, he was gone again, and everything seemed uncommonly quiet. I thought of those in the home who had passed and felt their gentle presence.      

But then, I heard the very much alive Charlie ask his regular question, "How do I look?"  I tell him that he is looking just great.  He really is looking better and better as he slowly is able to set some of his personal demons aside.  The activity assistants get up to tend to others once again.  I hear announcements over the intercom, and the ever moving elevators begins to whir.   I hear the tv in the lobby and the ringing telephones.  I am handed the song sheets that a volunteer had graciously gathered.  I repack my bag, and my month of amazing grace was officially underway.

Dear friends, let's love one another, because love is from God...
                                                                                                          1 John 4:7