Thursday, April 3, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
‘We will go together’ — is what Jesus might say
The newsletter from the old church in Chicago I served 22 years ago still wends its way down to me. Coming by third class mail, the news is often dated, but this many years later, I am surprised at how many people I still know. Two sisters I thought very old then are still in charge of the Women’s Federation!
Scanning last month’s news from Chicago, I noted the death of Sue P. Sue was what Jung the psychologist called a personality archetype. That is, you meet “Sue” again and again in life. You would know just what I mean if you saw her.
Sue was a professional person, dynamic and aggressive. She had a cloying, fawning manner, but it was all directed to getting you to do something you had rather not -- rather like the mythical spider who whispers sweet words to the fly. She was, however, always successful in the effort, and the result did not endear her to those who knew her best.
Once a month, our church invited every worshiper to sign a card in the pew, giving vital information such as change of address or telephone number and indicating pastoral concerns. Sue would always turn in a card with the request that a pastor visit her elderly mother who resided in a care facility many miles north of our church, all the way up to the lake shore, almost to the Wisconsin border.
Being “low man” on the ministerial totem pole, I always drew the assignment of making this call, and it meant a long day of riding the “L” train to Evanston, changing to several buses, as I worked my way up to Waukegan and then headed west for several miles to the place where th is very dreary and forgotten nursing home was located.
The poor old woman was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, curled in a fetal position, utterly unresponsive. She was clean and decently cared for, but all I could do was take her hand and repeat a prayer, for one never knows what people are aware of, even in the most pitiful of circumstances.
I did this many a Monday morning for months, until one Sunday at coffee hour, I happened to be conversing with Sue and casually asked her how her mother was. “Mother!” she exclaimed, “Why I haven’t seen her in years. It’s miles up to where she is and besides, I don’t think it would do one bit of good for me to go!”
This was an eye-opener for me and made me realize that clergy do perform a vital role, for if we did not visit and care for some of this world’s sick and downtrodden, who on earth would? In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that some people support the church just to know there will be surrogates to do these sorts of missions on their behalf. It may be “what ministers do,” but I have my doubts that this was the way Jesus intended when He established the church.
Some people will tell me very piously that they just can’t stand to see their loved one in such a condition. All I can say is, how would you feel, if you were on your sickbed, frail and fearful, and all whom you looked to for solace were hanging back because it made them feel bad to see you in such a pitiful state?
Sometimes, the rest of us need to do what a minister does -- gather your courage, march on in and do what needs to be done. When it is your turn, you will be grateful for the ones who do.
It is very hard work to do, but I never doubt that it is worthwhile, and am always grateful to God for giving me the courage.
I do not know what eventually worked out with Sue and her mother. Just about the time of that conversation in the coffee hour, it was time for me to move to Mississippi.
If I had been wiser in my young ministry, I would have said, “Next time Sue, I am going to come for you and we will go together.”
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