As we finished in our paid ministry roles back in August this was a phrase I often used when people would ask if we would still be involved in church life in some way.
You never stop being who you are (and if you do then maybe you were only ever paid to be that person…)
We purposefully and intentionally took the last part of 2022 as a break from the things we normally do. It seemed important to do that – to step back from all ministry stuff and make the disconnect real both for ourselves and others. However as the year drew to a close I sensed God speaking to me thru an NBA basketball game – not how it usually happens – but then there isn’t really a ‘usual’.
It was a freaky game, where my team (the Brooklyn Nets) had their top 8 guys unavailable to play – which meant that the bench had to step up and play extra time. As I was watching these ‘bench’ players do their thing and actually overpower Indiana, I was reflecting on how much talent goes wasted every week in that league. Somehow in that moment I just sensed the Spirit saying ‘time to get off the bench.’
I can’t tell you exactly what that means (and I don’t think it is anything grandiose or drastic) It was more a reminder that the bench may he comfortable and easy but it is never what anyone aspires to. It’s never where you want to be long term. It is time to ‘get back into the game’ and not waste the gifts we have.
Then last Friday a phone call came out of the blue at around 3pm. Danelle and I were enjoying the Christmas – New Year break from retic work when I answered the phone. It was an aged care facility calling.
‘I’m not sure if I’ve got the right number but we have a resident here who is asking for a pastor to come and bless her,’ the voice said.
‘Oh right…’ I said. And in that moment I thought ‘how are they still getting my number?!‘ I had removed it from the church website, but somehow… She went on, ‘She’s 102 and…’
‘102,’ I heard her say. ‘Is this’E’?’ I interrupted.
‘Yes it is’, she replied. ‘Do you know her?’
‘Yes – she’s been part of our church family for many years.’ I replied. E was there the day we arrived and she was still coming when she could, right up to when we finished. I expected to have done her funeral long before now.
The nurse made it sound quite urgent – letting us know that we had until 5pm to get someone in there. When a 102 year old is asking for a blessing and it sounds urgent then you just get a wriggle on and make it happen.
‘We will sort something out.’ I said. ‘Leave it with me.’
Then the question – who should go?
This did sound rather ominous, like a person’s final check in, so we realised the significance and gravity of what was being asked. We called some friends in the church who we knew would happily go as they have a long established friendship with her, but they had guests and couldn’t leave.
We felt like (as ‘no longer pastors’) we should offer the request to our current pastors – but again holidays and circumstance meant that they couldn’t drop everything and attend.
‘Looks like it’s us…’ I said to Danelle.’Up for it?’
I think both of us were secretly glad that no one else was able to take it on. Holidays or not, pastors or not, we quickly hustled out the door and down to the aged care centre to see E. As we were driving I was musing on what a beautiful privilege it is to sit with people in these moments – to hear their final thoughts and requests – to help them take their final step peacefully. In my earlier days these moments had me all at sea as I didn’t have the EQ nor pastoral skills to manage the situation well. Not today.
We arrived, did our RAT tests and were walked down to E’s room, where she sat in her wheelchair with crocheted rug across her lap. She looked up as she heard our voice – trying to place who we were.
‘Hi E, It’s me – Danelle!’
E’s face went from curious to a massive smile. ‘And Andrew,’ I said ‘You remember us right?’ She nodded and smiled. We entered the room and sat on her bed close to her wheelchair.
I don’t want to share too much of the conversation as that wouldn’t be appropriate. But simply put this 102 year old lady just wanted to be sure that things were ok with her and God – that everything was forgiven and dealt with – that all ‘the bills’ were paid.
We took the time to assure her that God is waiting to greet her with open arms and that Jesus has made that possible.
‘Really?..’ She said weakly.’That is really true?’
‘We aren’t allowed to lie E,’ said Danelle.
‘I believe.’ she said strongly. ‘I believe. I believe!’
‘That’s good news hey E?’ I said and as I unconsciously spoke the words it dawned on me that the ‘gospel story’ that so easily runs off our tongue really is pure good news.
When we walk with Jesus there is nothing to fear about what the afterlife may hold, but only a much repeated promise that all will be well – even if we can’t articulate the exact shape that will take very easily.
E was tired and drifted in and out of sleep a few times while we were there – but we knew what we had come for. And she was clear on why we were there – just to remind her one last time that the Christian story really is good news – that all is good with her and God.
As we prayed for her she gripped our hands tightly and we shed a few tears knowing that this was probably the last time we would she her in this life.
We drove home in silence for maybe 20 minutes just aware of the beauty of that previous hour, of these moments that are so precious. At 3.30pm we didn’t expect to move so quickly from lazy afternoon to a final farewell, but perhaps this is just one aspect of what it means to ‘never stop being who you are’.