Yesterday it was my turn to take the worship at the home for "confused" old people down the road. Because we share ministry there with our Baptist neighbours, and there's a team of willing volunteers, I only seem to be on duty every 3 months or so. I'm never sure if this is a relief or a pity. I really struggle to find suitable material (the majority only want to sing their favourite hymns, but this seems a rather meagre diet for the one or two who are more switched on). I struggle too with the actual mechanics of leading worship in the dining room, where most of the congregation are scattered about the room, at individual tables, so there's no sort of focal point, - and at least some of those gathered are only there because nobody has managed to take them elsewhere after tea. I'd be less than truthful if I said that I looked forward to my slots there with anything other than several buckets of apprehension, but part of me feels that I ought actually to go there more often, so that I have some hope of making a relationship with those for whom this is still a possibility. As it is, it feels as if I'm delivering hit and run worship, which doesn't quite connect with anyone.
Yesterday was a case in point.The service is supposed to start at 5.30, which is just about manageable if you are doing a 6.30 Evensong. When I arrived, at 5.25 they had barely started serving tea,- and many of the residents need spoon feeding, so this is quite a lengthy procedure. However, shortly before 6.00 I finally began the service, mentally making cuts all over the place as I was due to preach at Evensong, so wasn't exactly optional there either. There was a good response to using tried and trusted collects and they loved singing "He who would valiant be" and "Lead us heavenly Father". I was trying to talk about pilgrimages, and the idea of being taken somewhere without really wanting to make the journey,(something which seemed to speak loud and clear to their context) so I used retelling of the Abram story from Sarai's viewpoint,which worked really well. But I did feel so much that I was a kind of ministerial equivalent of meals on wheels...rushing in, delivering what I had in stock and departing without pausing to pass the time of day or see if the food was to their taste.
As I was setting up, one lady, in great distress, cried out "Nobody cares at all" and I knew what I should do was take the time to be with her and hold her hand and just reassure her that she is still a human being, despite the wreckage of mind and body. She seemed to be very sure that she didn't want to be left in the dining room for worship, but the carers told her (not unkindly) "You don't really mean that" and to me "She used to be a nun, you know". This was apparently sufficient reason to ignore her pleas to be put to bed, and to leave her wheelchair parked firmly in the dining room, - .so now I had an added dilemma of whether or not to force-feed her with worship, as it were. In the end, I had to proceed, and, startlingly, she suddenly calmed down and joined in the Lord's Prayer with apparent equinimity, if not enthusiasm. But she haunted my dreams last night..nailed to her cross, if you like, with the well intentioned hymn singing enveloping her in an unwanted embrace from which there was no escape.