Faith Works 7-26-14
Stories and treasures all around
Many years ago, I first visited Chimayo, New Mexico.
The Santuario is a small church, built about the same time as Granville's Buxton Inn, but of adobe bricks and local pine and juniper gathered there in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Off to one side of the sanctuary are two rooms. One is filled with religious art on the walls and a small hole, or "pocito" in the center of the floor. In that hole is loose dirt, refilled each day from the banks of the nearby stream, and people come from near and far to gather some of that dirt because of its healing properties. Some rub it on themselves or their loved one needing healing, others even . . . well, the "tierra bendita" or "holy dirt" is consumed in a variety of ways.
Yes, for a Midwestern Protestant like me, it was an odd sight. But even more striking to me was the next room. It was covered, every wall, by crutches and braces and walkers and hundreds upon hundreds of letters, testimonials mostly in Spanish but not a few in not only English, but an assortment of other languages.
I've learned since that if you visit Lourdes in France, you see much the same sort of room. A place for thanks and sharing of what is no longer needed by those who have found healing; rooms sheathed in cast-off medical gear thankfully no longer central in someone's life.
Those are distant and somewhat unusual images, but when I first came to Newark Central Christian as the prospective pastor, they all came back to me when the congregation's leaders proudly took me out behind the church building, to a converted double garage: what's called the "Medical Loan Closet."
And on every wall were hanging row on row of canes, crutches, braces, knee walkers, rolling or sliding walkers; across the floor were commode chairs, shower chairs, wheelchairs of all sorts of variations, and more. "Durable medical goods" is the phrase used to describe what's available for loan there.
It immediately reminded me of Chimayo, a good memory in many ways I must note, but also more apt than you might think. Because while some of the gear brought to us for donation comes because the former user has died, the vast majority of it is brought in by those who no longer need it. Their stories of healing may tend to be medical and practical, but they are no less celebrated.
Hardly a week goes by now that I don't end up talking to someone who says "Oh, I know your church: that's where I got [insert medical gear name here]! They were so nice when I got it, and when I took it back." It's a joyful thing.
And even when people come back with items and say "Aunt Esmerelda passed last week" there's still usually a happy story or two about how the items helped keep the patient at home, where they didn't have to be a patient, and that they no longer had any pain or suffering now. Prayers are often part of what goes on in and around the Medical Loan Closet.
If you'd like to see it, today is kind of an "open house" day. We're open for business with volunteer staff on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (usually closed for holiday Mondays and just before major seasonal holidays: hey, they're all volunteers!) from 10 am to 3 pm… you can call 366-7438 to check if someone's there.
But we're having a kids' activity day today, July 26, from 11 am to 5 pm, and part of what the kids ramble about to see and do is our Medical Loan Closet ministry. If you're just curious about this healing center in a different sort of mode, and especially if you think something like this is what your congregation is being called to do, drop by.
And when you do (park around back, up the alley between Rugg Ave. and Quentin St.), look around at everything stacked and racked and hung from the ceilings or lining the floor. And know that every item has a story…with many of them having a story of healing associated with them. It's kind of a holy place.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about a holy place you love at email@example.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.