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Our mutual care

March 2010

The care which Sandyford gave Felicity Smith makes a suitable introduction to the pastoral letter I was already drafting. Sometimes you speak, with a care for me, of not wanting to trouble me ‘because you are so busy, Mr White.’ I would be very glad if you would re-think that thought.

It’s true that at the prayer meeting I often let you know of my commitments and ask for your prayers. Sometimes the commitments are to do with Sandyford, sometimes with my wider writing and speaking which are also the ministry of Sandyford; but I am not too busy for you. I would rather stop asking for prayer than have you think me so. I would very much like to know if you are troubled or could do with help, or know of a member who would. In the unlikely event that I cannot respond, or if someone else is the more appropriate person to do so, I’ll tell you. But please don’t leave me uninformed: we belong to each other! I want to share your cares and joys, to be part of your lives. You are my first interest and care; don’t deprive me of you!

I appreciate that there can be illnesses, or reasons for being in hospital, which are private. I do not want to breach your privacy. Such situations apart, however, I would always want to know when someone is in hospital, even if that is kept between the two of us. The idea that you consider me too busy to be with you and ‘be there for you’ as the modern saying is, distresses me.

Not that Sandyford is a one-man ministry. When I call on an older or vulnerable member, that visit is nearly always a complement to friendship and support which Sandyford is already giving. That was certainly true in Felicity’s case, Sandyford folk having been with her at least every Saturday for years. That gave Patrick and Pamela some space, and enabled me also to visit her on a much less frequent rota than I’d otherwise have done. The church was visiting her every week, in addition to her elder’s visits and mine. The same is true of a good number of members; thanks be for a loving congregation.

We have a number of members we need to be sure of visiting and I do not always know who does visit them and how often. I would like to make sure that no-one is being missed out. To that end, it would help me to know if you visit a Sandyford person regularly. Then I can arrange to plug any gaps in care. If members would just quietly let me know, that would really help.

There are also times when a member needs more frequent visits, for example when someone living on their own is ill or in hospital for a period. I’d like us to be that bit better geared up than we are, for such times if Sandyford’s informal method isn’t meeting the need. I have discussed this with the Kirk Session and they are happy that I should work on this. What I have in mind is that we set someone apart to call on folk to help: a person who would know who could help, and would be able quickly to arrange for what is needed. If you are willing to be phoned to give help in such circumstances, would you let me know?

One of our new members, wheelchair-bound as she is, is well placed to be the telephone hub of this help. Laura Miller is warm and hospitable, with experience of administration, and I am guessing that James and Laura’s home will become one of the many in Sandyford where all sorts of people will enjoy friendship. Clearly Laura cannot visit, and I’d like to see how well we can build up a ‘people willing to respond’ list for her. I emphasise that this is not ‘to give Laura something to do’ (although there would be nothing wrong with that) but because I perceive in her a pleasant giftedness, warmth and circumstances which make her specially suited to this ministry.

Another exercise of our care is that offered to each member by their elder. The ideal is that this is a living contact, information flowing both ways, with opportunity for spiritual fellowship so that respect and love grow and the elder becomes able to help in any problem that may arise.

In that case our elder should receive a welcome into our home. Do not think of them as too busy. There is something very fulfilling and pleasurable about real Christian sharing: how Sandyford is doing, how you are doing, the lessons in the current sermon series, your joys and sorrows. The way opens up for deeper care and the whole experience of fellowship in the congregation is strengthened. Help your elder! And ask them to pray for you before they leave.

There is a humility involved in having an elder. It’s a bit like being willing to sit under the preached Word. John Calvin put the latter rather helpfully:

“This is the best and most useful exercise in humility, when God accustoms us to obey his Word even it be preached by men like us and even sometimes by those of lower worth than we. When a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best show our obedience to God when we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, even though he excels us in nothing.”

Now apply that to having an elder. It is a helpful exercise in humility to submit to a fellow member’s oversight especially if that person is no better than we are. When a “puny man risen from the dust” is our elder, we best show our obedience to God if we accept and treat that person as our minister, our ‘under-shepherd’, though he may be no better than we are, or even not the shepherd we would personally have chosen.

As our Lord reminds us, ‘the congregation should work together as a whole with all the members caring for one another equally’ (1 Cor.12.25). Let’s work to plug any and all the gaps in our mutual care, so that no-one feels a lack of it.

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