Update from Fr. Chris Herman, St. Lazarus Mission
On the 4th of April, Debora Weaver, whom most people call Grandma Weaver, asked me if she could be baptized. She has been attending services at Crossroads Care Center in Vandalia, Ohio.
Crossroads is the facility where eight of our parishioners of the Livingston Diaspora were sent and where we followed to be sure they had continued pastoral care, and when we found there was none to be had, we began a parish plant post haste. This is no small matter in the normal course of events, and considering the vicious opposition we meet in the facility from the forces of the evil one — who do not even bother any longer to hide their presence but rather reveal themselves often to parishioners, staff members, and to me and to Carol in open warfare — we are definitely taking ground and holding it, declaring to the heavens that Jesus Christ is Lord and His rule is “here to stay.” Nevertheless, the conflict is altogether bothersome and it makes for difficult slogging through the spiritual warfare, which I believe to be real and substantially unrelenting and it apparently comes at us in every sphere of our lives. My parishioners need your prayers as do all of us in the mission work.
So, getting back to Grandma Weaver…
I baptized her on the 4th. Now, she practically lights up the room when she is present. Yesterday as she was leaving to go to bed she declared, “I was once a Jehovah’s Witness, but now I am not. God has set me free. I am a child of the One Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!” Here is a lesson I learned — I never had to even deal with teaching her the difference — The Holy Spirit did the heavy lifting. He revealed to her the Truth. Before I baptized her, I was convinced she was leaving the heresy behind despite the dementia through which we must communicate with one another. Her statement last night is comforting to me as a pastor.
Two weeks later, on the 18th of April, a young resident whom we have loved tenderly through struggles, about 25 years old, asked me to baptize her “next week.” I asked Sonja why “next week,” and she told me she didn’t want to be a bother to me and it would be inconvenient to me to do so if I had not planned to.
I learned long ago that one ought not wait in the nursing home context. Death is always a real and present reality. So I suggested we not wait. Sonja’s face lit up, and so I began the service by announcing to everyone I was going to baptize Sonja. And what I had hoped for began to happen, though faster than I had ever thought it would.
Betty asked if she could be baptized, too. I have been working with her, and so has Carol most especially. And then Brenda, who is in the “double locked” area of the facility. And then Diane, who first came to us as sort of a scammer, although we knew it, just wanting to score some wine, and to have some fun at our expense.
None of these four come from a churched (a Christian one) background. None had ever had a Christian community around them to welcome them. They had probably been spurned, and in some of their cases, I am certain they had. But the Spirit of God is most wonderful. He drew their hearts to Christ Jesus just as He drew close to them. I was in total awe that I was allowed by God to participate in such a wonderful event in the life of the parish.
And still, more happened. I have a time constraint each week, and since we have to be very aware of this constraint, I had to jump forward in the Communion of the Sick service to the invitation and then right to the Confession. I usually teach the liturgy as we go. It is important in our context that I do so for I am often, then, teaching the Scriptures through this practice, or perhaps something extremely important about the Faith. As Fr. Franklin Sanders notes often, I ought to trust the liturgy. Given that I do not have anywhere near as much time with the residents as I would want for a myriad of real-world and legitimate reasons, teaching the liturgy gives me a way to accomplish some rudimentary catechesis.
With this in mind, I told this growing congregation the wonder of the Confession and the Absolution lies in the goodness of God who wants to forgive us. I told them that night that God’s character is always to have mercy.
And then eternity met temporality – Carol Herman wrote this that night about it:
I am greatly humbled by a church service last night inside one of our nursing home congregations. I see it all the time. Folks who face their last days have a strong desire to make right what’s wrong in their hearts and relationships. Last night, we had four adults who were baptized. One of the folks being baptized began to publicly confess her sins. I sat there amazed and humbled. I wouldn’t have the guts to do it…her desire to be right with God was so strong, that she didn’t worry about man’s judgment.
Seeing her relief and gratitude was a visual sermon to me. How often I hide the truth because I worry about what people think about me. Gulp. How wonderful is God’s forgiveness. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 St. John i. 8, 9.
I did not know what to do right away when the woman began to speak aloud to God and ask Him to forgive her and have mercy, for I was frozen, like a rabbit frozen when it feels itself to be in danger. She was crying and as she was just about to conclude she looked to me and confessed out loud a terrible-scarring-burdensome-life-destroying-heinous act from her distant youth – and it was if she was with her eyes asking me, her pastor, if God would even forgive THAT.
I was moved deep inside by what I think to be the Author of Compassion, and I went to her and gave her a hug and told her that God forgives the penitent sinner so fully that He removes from us our sins as far as the east is from the west (cf. Psalm 103:12). And she received these words and this new creation, newly baptized, now unburdened, this precious soul smiled for the first time since I met her.
I realized later that night how the angels must be truly rejoicing.
Last night the woman was different in so many ways than over the past seven months. Even her body has healed a great deal.
I can never go through the motions when it comes to the Absolution nor the Benediction again. They have become for me so much more poignant and meaningful. They already were, but now…Oh my.
Reprinted with permission