One of the things I most appreciate about my congregation is the willingness of so many individuals to reach out to those in need. We've had experiences with elderly folk needing rides, family crises requiring food help or transportation to doctors, that sort of thing. And folks have always risen to the occasion, as best they can. Some recipients report receiving far more food or offers of help than they can possibly use!
Recently I learned about a man who was interested in making a connection to our congregation because he would soon be without family members nearby and he is approaching the end of his life with a terrible illness. I started visiting him regularly and after awhile asked members who lived nearby if they would be interested in making his acquaintance and dropping by periodically.
The response was swift and positive-----of course they would be glad to get to know him, take him for rides, help with small tasks. And so I started introducing them to him, one at a time. One person immediately offered to help him get his phone installed and has undertaken to do that for him, as he is unable to make the contacts easily himself. We don't always think, in this day and age, that we need more than a cell phone, but cell phones run out of energy and a landline is forever, even in a power outage.
The act that inspired this post occurred yesterday, when another person from the congregation suggested that the two of them go out for a milkshake sometime. The joy on the face of this worn-out man, in such discomfort, was palpable. This member knew and suggested just what a man with a permanent sore throat would relish: a milkshake and an outing with another man, someone strong enough to help him if his strength gave out, someone to talk guy-talk with. (All his caregivers recently have been female.)
I am always thrilled and moved to see the compassion in people's hearts for those who are suffering. We can give money to faraway causes and human rights struggles in our own neighborhoods, but the opportunity to give tangible comfort and companionship to someone who is very very ill, in the last months of life, doesn't come along very often or in this way. And we are often too unnerved by death to have the courage to step up and help, especially if it's a stranger.
In my regular chalice lighting words on the Sundays I preach, I offer these lines, adapted from something my colleague Alice Blair Wesley once wrote:
"The chalice holds a flame during our times together. For us, the flame stands for all that we hold dear and keep burning in our hearts: devotion to truth, gratitude for blessings, humility in the face of our limitations and folly, courage and compassion, and the generosity of spirit it is always ours to exercise. We gather on Sundays to nurture our understanding of who we are and what we may become. In the holy spirit of love for the good of all life, please join me in saying the congregational response which is printed in your order of service: 'May Love reign among us here in this hour of community.'
Courage and Compassion----that's what we're all about.