This is done in various guises but mainly by simply sitting in someone’s front room drinking coffee and eating biscuits, (and there is a lot of this) whilst wearing my dog collar.
I am there as God’s representative, even whilst drinking coffee and eating biscuits, mainly chocolate ones I must confess.
The reality and priviledge and burden of this used to catch me unawares in the early days of my ordained ministry. I would often forget I was wearing the collar and never even mention the Big Boss once, let alone offer a prayer! I remember now by always offering a prayer of thanks for the food presented to me, always on the decent china and always with a linen napkin.
So I am God’s representative in the flesh for many housebound and lonely people that I meet as part of my congregation or even simply in the street. It is something that I have to remember and so moderate both my language and my attitude accordingly. Wearing a clerical collar can occasionally be a curse but is always a blessing. It the often the key that opens up discussion for people and, on one occasion, actually prevented me from being beaten up. But that is a story for another day.
One of the most important parts of my pastoral ministry of visting is taking the elements of Bread and Wine, Holy Communion, to those who are sick, infirm, housebound and dying. The elements that I have blessed in Church at the previous Sunday service.
I view this part of my ministry as delivering ‘Holy Meals on Wheels’.
At one point I did consider writing a Masters dissertation on the theology behind Home Communions. Looking indepth, with actual case studies, what we are actually doing by taking communion by extension out of the church from the Sunday service to those unable to participate. But, as ever, the lack of money prevailed and that idea, like so many of my other great ones, has been shelved for the time being.
But, every time I take Home Communion to someone, I ask myself three simple questions:
1. What did they get out of my visit?
2. What did I get out of my visit?
and, most importantly,
3. What did God get out of our visit?
I don’t always have the answers I would like and am constantly surprised by God. Even if I get very little out of a visit apart from a full bladder, God is always there and is at work for that person.
As priests we expect every pastoral visit to be one where the problems we are presented with are easily solved – either by listening to the person or suggesting a practical answer. But there are no quick fixes in this game, and my pride and arrogance about this has got me into trouble several times. We can’t fix everything, only God, in time, can and will. I really must learn to leave it to Him sometimes but it is very hard, I am a woman after all.
Last week, I took my usual monthly Home Communion to my lady that I have been visiting for the past 3 years. She is housebound and, while she has a fantastic family, she does like to have the contact with her church through me. Luckily, this lady is not one of the many people I have visited in the past who claim to be housebound but on arrival, you discover they are off at the bingo!
No, this lady is a christian, a gentle woman who has had a lot to deal with in her life and does so with grace and dignity. During our short 15 minute service I shared the Gospel story about the Road to Emmaus with her. As I looked up after reading it, her eyes were filled with tears of wonder and amazement.
‘I have never heard that story before’ she cried. ‘Thank you. Those men were walking in the wrong direction and Jesus walked with them and didnae tell the off! I have felt like that many times. He also took the time to have food with them.’
He took the time to have food with them. We do so much more than simply extend the hand of the church to those unable to reach its doors by sharing our weekly holy communion with them. We are truly bringing holy meals on wheels to the very people who need to hear that they are loved by their maker. That they matter enough for some strange female cleric to take an hour out of her ‘busy’ day – ‘Oh Reverend you have far more important things to be doing than visiting me..’ – to visit and sit and listen to them and their stories.
He took the time. Jesus did and we do so too.
Wonder if I can get sponsorship for a van with ‘Heavenly Holy Meals on Wheels’ painted down the side? Offers anyone?