Friday, May 23, 2014

Coming Home

Doris has a particular spot where she sits in in the main living area of a beautiful assisted living home.  I have known her for about six years, and I have never seen her sit anywhere else.  When we first started worshiping with this community, we gathered in this living area because that was where the piano was.  That meant that the service would form around her, something akin to a tide gently coming ashore.  She always seemed to enjoy the service, but she never would take communion, citing her Catholic roots.        

This rhythm went on for a couple of years, but eventually, much to the delight of the gentle pianist, the staff moved the piano to a nice room adjacent to the main area.  Doris simply would not make that short commute of just a few feet, despite our greetings and invitations, and over time, she grew more withdrawn.  This week, however, she surprised me by coming into worship just as I was making a short introduction about the ministry to the new residents who had gathered with us.  She stayed for the service, and yes, she did take communion.  We talked afterwards, but she did not reveal what propelled her to suddenly make that journey from one room to the next.  I cannot tell you what sort of internal terrain she had to cross, or what compass she used.  A dream? Pain?  A sudden sense of longing to once again take part?  I may never know.  However, I do know that once we have taken communion, we will always feel the beckoning invitation to return to the table again.  It may take us awhile, even years to make the trip back.  However, God patiently sets the table with great regularity, and Christ vigilantly waits at the door for our return.  Blessed be.  We can find our way home.    
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness

Monday, May 19, 2014

Come in Friendship, Go in Love

Last week, when it came time for one of my monthly visits to a home dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's patients, the regular pianist could not join me, and a substitute did not readily surface.  I decided to simply go and visit with people, and maybe help with an activity.  A couple of times during my visit, I was asked by more than one resident, "Where is your friend?".  Even Elsie, who seldom speaks, asked in her a very quiet voice, "Where is the one who..."  At that moment her words failed her, but then she moved her fingers up and down an invisible keyboard.   

There was some more conversation, and at the end of my time, the resident coordinator, who had been off work for awhile, asked that I please lead them in a hymn.  Knowing that she loves "Amazing Grace," I chose that, and several residents joined in.  Some of their voices were surprisingly strong, and we were all singing from memory.  I then concluded with a prayer and a blessing.  I had very much enjoyed my time with them, and I was quite encouraged by what I had seen and experienced.  I was touched by the fact several residents remembered me, but I was truly excited to learn that some of the residents also remembered that I have a friend and that they missed her.  They missed their friend who brings them music.    
At the beginning of every service, regardless of where I am,  I introduce the pianist and other team members not only as SpiritCare volunteers, but also as friends.  We know that music can help the mind stay engaged longer.  As I continue this journey in the ministry, I am also continually being reminded that our services are deeper and the connections more lasting because we come as friends. What a blessing to have work that calls us to such love.  Certainly, it is a commitment and a responsibility.  However, most of all, it is a great joy.             
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. John 15:11.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


 I think Tom has been blind from birth.  He tells me he has a sister in the area, but I have never met her. I know he has lived in a convalescent hospital for over six years because this is how long I have known him. I am sure he is younger than I.   Today, when the pianist and I began our service,  there were over 60 residents in attendance.  In the middle of the congregation sat Tom.   

After the service, as I moved around the sixty or more wheelchairs to check in with people one more time, I hear Tom calling my name.  He is sitting three rows back.  It will take me a little while to reach him. 

 "Tom, I hear you.  I will be there in just a minute." 
"Thank you," he replies.  He waits.  I think he often waits.    

" Tom, it is Pastor Sue Ann. I am here.  You have a question?"   
"Yes.  About Psalm 23. What does it mean: The LORD is my shepherd.  I shall not want."?  
I did not read Psalm 23 to the congregation today, but I have in the past.  I did, however, read from John 10 about The Good Shepherd.      
"I think it means that not matter what, we know God is with us, so we know we have enough; even more than enough.  We are okay. We are in good hands."  
Tom pauses for, I think, close to a minute. It is my turn to wait.  He then says, "I am willing to believe that, Pastor Sue Ann."  
Visits to this community always has it challenges.  Yet, Tom's (and others') willingness to believe is always moving. 

Then there is Eileen.  Gently, but but steadily she has refused communion for the same six plus years that Tom has been willing to accept.  However, today, when I asked her the question, one more time, "Would you like communion?", she gently replied, "Yes, I think I would."     
I am led to green pastures.   

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where We Are

The young receptionist was just hanging up the phone when I walked through the front door.  "Oh, Pastor, I am so happy you are here!  I just had a call from someone wondering if his mother is here.  Now, how can someone not know where his mother is?"  She was quite indignant, and I had to smile.  I have gotten to know a little bit about the family of this gregarious young woman from El Salvador.  I remembered that her sister was scheduled for surgery, so I asked how she was doing.  "Oh, so much better.  Thank you for praying.  I am so happy!"  
I responded that I was very glad to hear of her sister's recovery, and then asked if she would be seeing her mother on Mother's Day.  I was not surprised to hear that family and friends were planning a large gathering on Sunday.  I also was not surprised to hear that someone might call this particular home to try to find a missing mother.  Folks from a wide variety of life styles end up in this particular section of this long-term care community.  Sometimes maintaining family ties is just not that easy when everything else is falling apart.  

About that time the pianist dashed in the door.  "I am here!  Just give me a second!" 

A few minutes later she returned, still a bit breathless.  "Sorry.  I have been working with Habitat for Humanity.  I had to clean up a bit."  I continue to be amazed by the volunteers who month by month make room in their schedules for these services, and I am often touched by the friendships that develop.  Many of those we serve have indeed lost track of their family, but we keep showing up, passing out song sheets, giving words of welcome, continuing to offer communion, and reminding everyone that God is always present.  For all of us. God knows where we are.   
As we walk down the hall, I give thanks.   I also give thanks for all of you.