Sunday afternoon saw my return to the Home for the Decidedly Confused (stop giggling, I was visiting, ok?) which I'd not visited for a while. We work a rota with our neighbours at the Baptist church, so turns don't come round that often...and with a rather unremarkable reflection on the Baptism of Christ to offer I wasn't looking forward to it much.
The particular challenge about ministry here is that because so many of the residents suffer from at least a degree of confusion, if not full-blown dementia, making relationships is almost impossible - particularly when you only visit once every few weeks. Of course I'd be happy to visit more regularly, but we do have a lay visitor who brings Communion to the home, and I've no desire to tread on any toes, so my policy has been to keep a low profile unless one of our "own" elderly is admitted...As a result I don't get to know names, and even faces change quite regularly though some residents remain there for many years.
On Sunday, the group was much smaller than usual...about a dozen I guess, instead of the more usual twenty...but at least 4 of them were enthusiastic when I offered them a hymn sheet and the giant print order of service I've produced for them (loosely modelled on Evening Prayer). I felt quite hopeful. One third of my congregation able and willing to engage felt very promising, so I was disappointed as the service began and, as usual, I found myself the only voice speaking the prayers and responses. God forgive me, I heard myself thinking "Well, this is pretty pointless. They have no sense of what is going on...I might as well be reading them the Yellow Pages for all the good this is doing"
The first hymn was no better, but I ploughed on with the Gospel and then launched into my reflection on it.
The change happened just as I said
This is my son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased
Not because of what he has done but because of who he is,
There it was - a sudden focussing of attention, an intensity of listening that transcended the buzz of a service bell, the noise of the tv in the adjoining lounge, even the struggling cough of the gentleman who sat, still wrapped in his bib, at the back of the dining room.
I heard myself again...but this time I knew exactly why I was there, as I spoke these words
This is my son, the beloved…
Hear God speaking those words to you, not because of what you can do for him but because of what he is….for what he is is simply and wholly love.
Obvious really - but just in case I was at any risk of missing the point, when the service was over and I had prayed down a blessing an elderly man spoke up
"I want to thank you for coming, for being with us. You have no idea what difference your words make to us. Come over here - I want to pray for you too"
And he did. He blessed me on behalf of all there, and of his home congregation , on the other side of Cheltenham.Quite wonderfully, as he held my hand in both of his.
Please, God, help me to learn the lesson I thought to teach...and to remember that there is never "routine" or "pointless" ministry if I remember to focus on your kingdom and not mine.