Stand Strong: Caring for Our Elders
|The Young Shepherdess, 1890
By Daniel Ridgway
You walk into the facility, and the temperature is warm. You look around, and see many elders. There are several tables which are used for dining, and there sits a black upright piano in the corner. Occasionally someone with Alzheimer’s will come and sit at the piano, place their fingers on the keys, and somehow be able to play a tune from the past. The television is turned on. No one is really watching it, but it seems to provide a calming yet abrasive background noise to fill the silent space. A woman is sitting at one of the tables with her head down. She is asleep. There are windows in the room, and you can see some of the green grass outside. Some of the people come and sit in front of the windows. They look out with a longing in their eyes. I wonder what they are thinking about (family, friends, and or their past?). I pull up a wooden stand, which will become the center of the room. I turn off the TV, and get some music playing from our CD player.
There are four of us who have chosen to come and minister to these people this week. Like other worship services, we are compelled to go and bring people into the worship time. I walk up and down the halls looking for some of our regular members. I tell them we are having church in the TV room, and they are invited to attend. I ask some if they would like me to wheel them to the service. They say yes, and we walk to the TV room. There is a smile on their face, because they look forward to hearing from the Word of God, and dedicating a sacred space in their home to God on Sunday. I wheel each of them to the room, pat them on the shoulders, tell them they are looking good today, and smile into their eyes. I want them to feel the love of God. I walk to gather more people. One woman is standing in the hall. She has lost part of her memory, and is often confused. I ask her if she would like to go to church, and she agrees. She tells me she does not know where to go, and so I take her hand and tell her I can walk her to the worship service. She smiles, walks alongside me, and we talk. In this moment, we create a holy moment, a moment of peace in her life. She sits down in the room. After I have gathered many of them to the room, it is time to get started. My mind wanders for a moment, and I ask myself the questions “Who would come if we were not here? Who would love them? Who would care for their spirit?”
Our piano player is absent, but we brought a CD player which is playing some songs. We give each person a bulletin we have prepared. It has the order of the service, the words for the songs, and the scriptures we will speak about in the service. I open the service with a smile and a warm welcome. I am grateful and thankful for each of these people. I am honored to serve them, and to love them. They are my neighbor. I may not know their past, their family, or the situations of their life, but in this moment they are my neighbor. The love of God compels me to be with them. The love of God compels me to be the church, to be and live the mission. I look out, and there are about twenty people. Some are sleeping, some are blind, and a few are looking at me. Some will nod their head, others will speak up, and others remain silent the entire service. We recite the Lord’s Prayer together. Some who cannot remember their own name recite the prayer. It makes me think the prayer was and is at the core of their being, and while part of their mind is gone, they still are connected to God. We sing songs. A woman raises her hands and asks if she can sing a song. She starts to sing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus, let all heaven and earth proclaim. Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away…” Others begin to sing with her acapela. The music of their hearts lifts to the heavens, and surely the presence of God is with us.
We have a time where we share testimonies. A few people share, and tell others what they are thankful for. Then, we have a time of prayer. We go around and individually pray with people for their needs. Sometimes tears fall down their eyes as they are touched by the power of God. Someone is listening. Someone is with them. Someone cares. Then we read a passage of scripture. There are many points where we read and recite scripture in the worship service, because we are people of The Word. It is the Word of God which changes, transforms, renews, encourages, strengthens, corrects, and brings all hope.
Our special guest speaker Chelle Whelehon gets up to preach. She brings a Bible and a devotional, and places it on the small wooden podium. She greets the people, and reads from her devotion book. She weaves together an exhortation with stories and personal experiences. She speaks on the topic of Standing Strong. She encourages the people to stand strong, to keep the faith, to continue onward. She quotes different scriptures, and people really resonate with what she is saying. Some of the people are sleeping, but others hear her voice. She brings her message to a close.
I step up to the podium, and affirm the Word she has given. I close the worship service with a benediction from the Psalms. I read Psalm 27:14 to the people, and encourage them to stand strong in the Lord. We each go around the room and greet the people. I shake their hand, tell them God loves them, and pray for the peace of God in their life. They each smile, and are so thankful we have come. But it isn’t about us, or about us feeling good because they need us. It is about obeying the command of God to go and preach the gospel to all people. It is about us being the church, rather than getting caught up in doing church. After I greet people, I take some of them back to their rooms. Then we leave.
As I reflect on nursing home ministry, I am humbled. I am humbled, because we get to bring the gospel to people. For me, this nursing home is a church plant. Each Sunday I attend, I am planting a church. I am planting seeds of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ministering to my elders. I am loving some of the forgotten, some who have been cast away from society, and some who may not feel the love of God. I am creating moments of holiness, a sacred space, and a time where we can connect to the Divine. I am blessed to serve. I am honored and humbled to serve. These are God’s people, and feel a little like “my people” too. My sense is that this is how pastors feel. They get to follow the Great Shepherd, and learn how to help lead people to the Shepherd: Jesus Christ.
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