Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Notes from a Communion Call. . .

Pastor Russ Saltzman has written a very fine piece on his own experience with a communion call to an elderly woman and of the angst that was born of the call, the conversation, and her later death.  It is a very fine piece of writing and one worthy of some discussion in the seminary classes where topics covering such situations are introduced to prospective Pastors.  You can read it all here...  Pastor Paul Gregory Alms has made this available to a wider circulation and other blogs have also passed on this account.  It is a painful but good read for Pastors who find themselves in similar shoes.

Pastor Heath Curtis has wondered why it is that the law offers us relief, if not comfort, when we face things honestly, without excuse or justification.  I, too find it strangely relieving to speak of those times when words did not come, when we felt without resource to address the painful question of another, and when exit and death find us likewise relieved.  You can read him here.

I offer a similar story, one I have told to laughter even though there is little in it that is funny (except my own foible).  Many, many years ago I had one of those difficult shut-in calls.  A husband and wife who spent most of their lives (day and night) in their chairs (hers a wheelchair and his an overstuffed chair).  Their eyes had dimmed with age and each had been left with weakness and disability.  He had trouble hearing and she could not walk.  So there they sat, he dozing in the worn out upholstery of his chair and she hunched over in her wheelchair.  Hardly anyone came to visit.  They had the company of a dog whose hair was prone to come off in your hand if you reached down to pet it and the regular visit of the meals on wheels delivery person.  But every 3-4 weeks I made the trip.

The conversation was difficult.  Neither offered much more than one word answers to my comments or questions.  I looked around their small, dark, disheveled home and found it beyond depressing.  They rarely had any news and did not react much to the news I brought as well.  Both had been pillars of the parish and had sacrificed much for the building of that congregation but now there was little life left in either of them.  I made the mistake once of scheduling the visit for late in the afternoon.  The heat was set too high, the winter day was short and darkness was soon around us, and the conversation was even more difficult that day. 

At some point I awoke, realizing to my horror that I had fallen asleep with them and there we were, snoring away for some 20 minutes.  What if someone had come and seen me!  What would they think!  What did these shut-ins think of me falling asleep!  Did they even know!  I was not so much asking questions of myself as much as expressing my shock at what I had done and the fear that someone else might know.  What to do?  Should I wake them?  Should I sneak out?  But I had not given them the Sacrament yet?  Would they remember?

I sat there waking up from my unplanned nap and chewing away at what had just happened.  I decided to wake them up (in a cowardly way) by droning on in a loud voice about this or that and asking them if they desired to receive the Sacrament.  They woke slowly and mumbled in the affirmative.  A quick liturgy and their communion and I packed up and headed home, relieved that no one seemed to be the wiser.

In the end, I fessed up to my wife who laughed (the image of us all sleeping away the darkening afternoon was funny) but inside I was dying.  I had failed myself and them, oh, yes, and the Lord.  In the shock and guilt, I attempted to figure out how to prevent it from happening again.  For the next few months I was absolutely buoyant and jovial when I arrived at their home.  I could not shut up trying to keep them informed of everything.  I was the model of wit and charm.  But under the veneer of enthusiasm was the guilt of one who hoped and prayed that they would never know.  I left relieved as usual, maybe more than usual.  Maybe you can understand.

The work of God's kingdom is often tedious.  There is no glamor.  There is no glory.  Sometimes the most you can hope for is that the people you serve do not see your faults and failings as clearly as you see your own...


Timothy C. Schenks said...

I used to go with my pastor on his monthly shut-in calls. I'm glad to have seen that every person he visited was happy to have him there and were anxious to receive the Sacrament.

I can't say the same about many of the members who attend the Divine Service every Sunday.

Joanne said...

We shut-ins like it when visitors nap with us. It's like taking part in our life. It's also something we can offer you, a very busy person who probably dosen't get to nap regularly every day. We enjoyed your company in sharing a nap. I have friends from where I used to work, a fiend who is getting near retirement and her sister who requires constant supervision, but is good company when her medications are working well. Every Friday they come and my friend usually falls asleep on the couch, and her sister goes down the hall to watch TV with my elderly and frail mother. They nap to the flickering light of the TV, both up in Mama's big bed. The sister's meds allow her to sleep almost anytime anywhere. My friend has 6 horses, 3 dogs, and 2 cats that she is responsible for and a branch library to keep open when the sign says it's open. She works too hard and has trouble with too many obligations. When she nods off, I just let her sleep, knowing that we are a place of refuge for her, a place of rest. Your elderly nap buddies would have been happy to know you got some rest, away from the busy world in their quiet home. I'm sure they enjoyed your company in sharing a nap, since that's something they still can do quite well.