My best congregation ever!
This past year, our parish made a commitment to hold a Vespers service in each local nursing home where some of our once-youthful church members now reside. On September 27th, the time to visit Hewitt Health & Rehabilitation Center had come.
I anticipated a small crowd. After all, only one of our church members was in residence there, and I was unaware of any other Orthodox Christian person who called Hewitt “home.”
I grabbed my cassock, music books, and liturgical items from the car and headed to a multi-purpose room, which I was supposed to turn into a “church.” I couldn’t have been more surprised when I passed the threshold.
Current parishioner Elaine, with her mom, Sophie, who lives at Hewitt.
Inside, in neat rows of wheelchairs, were at least a dozen residents who had arrived early and were patiently waiting for the service to begin. As I finished laying out vestments, setting up the cross, and organizing music stands, my “congregation” swelled to 25.
I took a few minutes before the scheduled start of Vespers to chat with the residents, only one of whom was truly my parishioner.
I found out my “congregation” were enthusiastic and rather ecumenical: “Don’t worry, Father, we show up no matter who’s preaching or what kind of service it is.”
I found out that although unhappy circumstances had resulted in their Hewitt residency—early stroke, accident, immobility from aging—they still carried the joy of the Lord in their hearts: “We have to be grateful to God everyday, He’s most important.”
I found out they were “up” for trying new things: They followed the words to the unfamiliar Orthodox Christian hymns on the handouts with reverent curiosity.
And, I found out they knew the Bible, especially the Psalms: “The Lord is my Shepherd,” many of them sang with us at the conclusion.
Psalm 90:10 tells us that our days are numbered: “Our years are threescore years and ten (70); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years (80).”
But they pass so quickly, and no one ever wants to leave home, family, or the church they’ve attended, perhaps for decades. However, sometimes, as with our guests at Hewitt, it’s inevitable.
I just hope, if or when my time comes to move into a residence for care of the elderly, that I will be as charming, congenial, open, and intellectually acute as the folks I met at Hewitt. They were my best congregation ever!
Photos: parishioners Richard Kendall and Chris Savisky