When I arrived at the retirement community for my first day as a chaplain intern, what I’d learned through months of study and preparation ran through my head—especially the oft-prescribed, but rarely defined, “ministry of presence.” As I introduced myself to residents, I felt woefully inadequate.
When I reached Miriam’s second-floor room in the late afternoon, I was overwhelmed. Bedbound and unable to speak or move without assistance, Miriam had entered hospice care several months before I arrived. She spent her days in this room with her aide, Charlotte, always by her side. Charlotte understood that to be truly present with someone—with no agenda and no conditions— is anything but simple and passive. The work wasn’t glamorous or momentous; it was the foot-washing, bread-breaking ministry of the Messiah.
Like that of Jesus, Charlotte’s ministry is, first and foremost, one of compassionately, sincerely journeying with people where they are, as they are. Hospitality, constancy, companionship—these comprise a ministry of presence.
This message is an excerpt from a Women of the ELCA blog by Hannah J. Hawkinson.
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