Here I am, about six months into this whole "being a pastor" thing. It's pretty amazing most days, for sure. I'm called 3/4 time at BLC, but I still keep really busy.
Some of the things I do as the pastor are that I develop confirmation lessons and then teach them; I write prayers and sermons; I visit people in the hospital and pray with them before and after surgery, and during illness; I attend council meetings and talk about what's been going on; I go to text study with other area religious leaders so we can "talk about what we're going to talk about;" I go to my youths' sports and musical events; I visit people in their homes or occasionally at the cafe or at their place of work; I visit people in nursing homes; and I lead worship at one of the memory care communities in Bismarck.
I am amazed at the ways people have let me into their lives, and I give thanks for community in Christ.
When I was in seminary, we talked about our "FOOI," which means,"Family of origin issues." We ALL have them, which isn't necessarily a BAD thing, but it IS important to be able to be aware of them and how they affect the ways we minister. Obviously, one of my FOOIs is that both my parents are dead. My dad has been dead since 1995, and while I still grieve his loss, it's a little less poignant by now. However, my mother has only been gone for not quite two years. She was sick for a LONG time with dementia, which was very hard to see.
So, what's the deal? Where are you going with this, Trish?
Well, here's the thing-I'm finding it to be difficult work to minister among the cognitively disabled people. At the memory care community, I give thanks that "my" person always knows me, but I also grieve that some of the other people I see repeatedly don't remember. They have no clue who I am, other than I am a pastor (they know because I wear my clerical shirt when I lead worship there). AND, it's hard to see their cognitive decline, too. I really like these people, see, and I don't like that I "know" what's coming for them, and I don't like that it's ACTUALLY happening (and isn't an abstract "someday" thing). Every time I leave there, I am sad. BUT, I also leave with gratitude that I can minister to them. These people are so amazing. They sing the song I pick with exuberance. When I say, "The Lord be with you" they reply, "And also with you!" When I start, "Our Father," they chime RIGHT in. When I move around the table to administer Holy Communion to them, they stick out their tongues so I can place the wine-soaked wafer in their mouths. And then they say "Thank you." Now, I know "Thank you" isn't a "proper liturgical response" but I can't help but be humbled that they think they have to thank ME for administering what Christ freely gives for them. I'm humbled that they let me come and preach and preside in their midst, and I'm humbled that they are so warm to me when I stick around to visit after worship.
So, when I leave, I pray a lot for them. And I find myself saying a lot of, "God bless these beloved people. God bless 'em!" It's hard work, ministering in a memory care community, but hard doesn't mean bad. The wounds I still nurse in reference to my mother are still pretty fresh, but I think she would be glad to know that I can go because of these two things: The Holy Spirit's work within me, and my love for her.
It's weird; you don't expect a horrible, dreadful, no-good, rotten, memory-stealing disease to have ANY good come out of it. Don't get me wrong, I would STILL punch dementia in the face if it were a person, but dealing with dementia up close and personal has helped shape me into someone who really cares about these beloved ones who are afflicted with dementing illnesses. I can listen to the man who says the same sentence over and over. I can nod at the person who speaks non-words. And I hardly flinch when the F-bomb drops out of a sweet old lady's mouth like she's saying "chicken pot pie." It's hard work, but it's not bad work.