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Giving and receiving care in the kingdom of God

As a new pastor, one of my first homebound Communion visits took me and a deacon to a long-term care facility. We found our church member in a recliner. Her cognitive ability was in decline, and my introduction was extra confusing for her. But the deacon and I got down on our knees to talk, pray and ultimately partake of the sacrament with her. As we sat on the floor and broke bread, the words of the hymn “Let us break bread together on our knees” echoed in my head, and I was humbled by the privilege of my work. Now, I cannot sing that song without remembering that moment.

I am a firm believer that ministry requires us to meet people where they are: as we preach, as we teach, as we listen and as we serve homebound Communion. Jesus didn’t drag people into the Temple to heal them, feed them or talk with them. He met them where they were, whether that was a woman at a well, a leaper on the roadside, a man lowered through the roof, a demoniac on the edge of town or a crowd listening on a hillside. Jesus went to the people. So, in my effort to model his example, I go to people in their own lives.

This concept is beautiful and sacred when I am on my knees serving Communion to a woman I just met, watching her lips move even though she can no longer verbally communicate. It is much more difficult when I am invited to preside at a funeral and asked to leave the “God stuff” out. I suppose I could say no to such a request because it seems so counterintuitive to leave out worship and hope in the resurrection. Yet, I often say yes. And it is a challenge every time I do because I want to pray and read Scripture, but I must get out of my own way to love these people in a way that they can receive. What brings me comfort does not always bring comfort to another. So, I show up, I read poetry and prose, I share reflections and I am present with the grieving. In those moments, it is my hope that I demonstrate the love of Jesus, even if his gospel is not directly articulated. A quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” It is my desire to live this out, even in delicate contexts.

Ministry offers me ample opportunity to connect with people as they are. I don’t always agree with the folks with whom I engage, but I can always listen. It is difficult, especially in such divisive times. It is difficult to not let passion get the best of me. It is my job to love folks even when it is hard. It is my responsibility to remember that every opinion is likely formed from a variety of experiences and a particular worldview. Grace goes a long way when it comes to caring for people.

To be good caregivers, we must maintain some boundaries as well as rituals of rest to avoid burnout. We also need to acknowledge the times and ways that we need to be cared for, a challenge I have yet to see come easy to the caregiving type. I attempt to make space for this sort of care as I visit with folks, to make sure caregivers in homes feel seen and heard. I pray for them and acknowledge their struggles. I also model it as I am able. While living far away from any family and serving in my first call in 2016, I had a car accident. My car was totaled on the interstate, and I was left with a fracture in my neck. Yet, everything in life still needed to happen, my child needed to get to school, meals needed to be made and chores needed to be done. My congregation rallied around me and my family to carry us through those days. I did not want to get help from the people I served, yet I needed it. I learned to celebrate that I had folks willing to do drop off and pick up at school, who brought meals and who helped with other chores.

I believe this is truly what it means to live into the kin-dom of God — to both care and receive care, to love and be loved, to stand in need of grace and offer grace.