Friday, October 19, 2007

Thank God for Her

Last Wednesday, it didn’t seem the same. I was leading a communion service at Abington Manor, as I’ve done each month for the past ten years or so. Mary Clark wasn’t there to assist me. She had passed away after a long illness.

Mary was one of the very first residents of that local nursing home, living there for twenty years. A number of years ago, my friend Bob London observed her compassionate care for the other residents. Knowing her to be a Presbyterian, he said, “I’ll bet you were ordained a deacon in your church.”

“Oh no,” she replied. “And I could never be a deacon either, since I live in a nursing home.”

It was the kind of challenge that Bob always rises to meet. After a conversation with her pastor and a congregational vote, Mary was elected a Presbyterian deacon, with the understanding that her ministry would be in residence at Abington Manor. She was ordained there in the activity room, served with distinction, and I pause to honor her life and ministry.

Mary worked the hallways, offering words of encouragement wherever they were needed. Rarely to be found in her own room, she would “drop by” and be a friendly presence to the residents, with particular care shown to those who had difficulty adjusting to institutional life. She was an advocate for fellow residents, their rights, and their abilities. By all accounts, she was also the best Presbyterian bingo caller they ever had, and she saved all her bingo winnings to donate to her church.

For me, she was the Bread Lady, holding the tray each month and gently encouraging all to take in the Body of Christ. She would not distinguish between Protestant and Catholic, able or disabled. Sometimes she would wake up a worshiper and say, “It’s Holy Communion; take it, because we need it.” That remains about the best invitation to the Lord’s Table that I know.

We are called to serve Christ wherever we are – that’s one of the lessons Mary lived and taught by example. While I mourn her absence, I entrust her to the power of Christ’s resurrection. That little piece of bread that she took at communion was the appetizer for the heavenly banquet she now enjoys.

“Sometimes God drops a handkerchief,” Frederick Buechner writes, “and these people are called saints.” On the brink of All Saints’ Day, let us give thanks for the faithful folks we have known and live by their example.

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