“Alice, your work is a ministry.” A friend said this to me at church when I explained what I do. I help families find housing and care for their elderly loved ones. But how does that make me a minister?
I don’t wear a clerical collar or a black habit. Occasionally a cross hangs around my neck. I haven’t been to seminary unless Sunday School counts.
I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a minister. I had a head start on many folks, as my father was a pastor. Living in a parsonage in rural Indiana, I attended more funerals that most people attend in their whole lives. Mother sang solos; Daddy preached. I don’t remember their words; I do remember their kindness to those who grieved.
If faith is a big part of your life, and you work with seniors and their families, your work may be seen as a ministry. Faith, if it’s real, oozes out of our lives, but especially to those who are hurting. It’s not about Bible thumping, however.
I worked for 12-plus years at Warm Beach Senior Community, a not-for-profit Christian retirement community in Washington State. One man who was interested in moving in said, “I don’t believe in God. Will people preach at me?”
What could I say? I knew the residents and staff understood NO meant NO when it came to religious activities. But I wondered if he’d been pressured before to come to faith. Or if he had been hurt by religious people.
I looked him straight in the eye. “Of course, we won’t preach at you.” I paused and added. “However, if God speaks to you, we won’t stop him.” He and I both smiled.
Faith is often expressed in more subtle ways: a nursing assistant buying a Mariner’s baseball cap with her own money for a resident without family. An activities director procuring a live pony for a resident’s 100th birthday. A group of nursing home employees planning a wedding for a couple who both were nursing home residents. These employees hosted a bridal shower, helped the couple buy rings on line, and organized the wedding itself, with the Chaplain officiating.
Most of the time this faith stuff just happens. More than a decade ago I met a volunteer named Elinor who served many years as a Eucharistic minister to our Catholic nursing residents. At life’s end, she chose our nursing home. One day, I asked the Director of Nursing Services, “How is Elinor doing?” Elinor was actively dying.
A holy hush filled her room as I walked in. “Elinor, this is Alice. I’ve worked with you over the years. I can’t give you last rites, because I’m not a priest. But I can pray with you, if you’d like.”
She squeezed my hand. I prayed the Lord’s prayer. She mouthed the words.
What a blessing to me! I realize that many of you who work with seniors and their families have similar stories. God uses us, weak though we are, to bless these wonderful people. It goes without saying that they bless us.
If you work with seniors and their families, do you have stories of faith you can tell?