Faith Works 9-19-15
Disruption and healing
One of the critical roles of faith communities for members is to be a stable presence in the midst of disruption.
Disruption can be as disturbing as a death, or as simple as a change in plans. And on a personal level, some people take a major crisis in stride, but are completely dismantled by a minor setback.
There are personal blows that hit an individual where it matters: job loss, a car crash, the death of a pet. And there are family impacts that shake each member a little differently: a move, the moving of neighbors (and the arrival of new ones), major milestones like a graduation that changes relationships all through the family system.
In the mainstream Christian tradition, the starting point is God. God was and is and will be; from God as creator all things were made, and anything that is to come finds a resting place in God's purposes. As redeemer, in Christ all people find hope and promise for a future with God forever; through the Holy Spirit, all creation is sustained moment by moment by moment.
Jesus said "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst," (Mt. 18:20 NASB) and it's that confidence that God is present, and caring, in which a ministry of presence becomes so important.
We can add elements to that ministry of presence: casseroles, a sliced ham, cards and flowers. Candy is usually pretty nice, too. (Sugar free for diabetics!) But they're simply tools to help us in visiting, and to maintain the memory of that act of presence, as outward expressions of what's usually most important inwardly for all concerned: you were there. You took the time, you showed up, you cared enough to call or write.
Someone else being present in the midst of that moment or place of disruption is the most effective reminder of that spiritual truth Jesus stated, when he said "in coming together, you bring me into the picture" (Mt. 18:20, Jeff's paraphrase).
People know you can't change the reasons we all came to the hospital, it's understood that the moving van is getting loaded pretty much no matter what anyone says, in prayer or personally, but your being present is a reference point, a solid place to stand in your mind and heart, when everything around feels like it's turning into broken glass.
Clergy are expected to be more at ease, and more reassuring in their demeanor, in a hospital or nursing home or scene of crisis. We've got special training, most of us, and generally more experience than the average person in standing on the edge of chaos. There are words to say, and prayers to offer, and scriptures to share . . . we each have our own preferred tool kit of those close at hand, in mind, ready to use . . . but there is so often nothing to say but to stretch out an arm, offer a hug, to shake a hand and offer up oftimes no more than a sympathetic look without words.
Prayers are usually very welcome, in any case.
But there are also those situations where, whether minister or lay leader, friend from church or neighbor with good intentions, you come into a circumstance and quickly feel that you're not where you're wanted. It happens. Some folks want, and perhaps many of us at certain times, to have our space and silence to ourselves. If you sense that you're not welcome, it can be as much of a pastoral gift to gracefully back away. Even then, I believe there's a blessing to simply have let someone know you showed up, and that since it's not about you anyhow, it's okay for you to go.
Because that's really the power of presence in those situations. If it's about you, then the expectations and the blessings are about you, and that's usually not the case. You're there to represent and embody and open up the connection to the One who will be there even after you go, and sooner or later, you will go.
Make sure you leave room for God to show up with you, because it's God you want to leave behind.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you've offered the ministry of presence in your care for others at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.