My mother died three years ago, just weeks before my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary.
Before she died, my parents did everything together: shopping, gardening, canning and freezing their garden’s bounty, volunteering in the church and community. Mom’s death left a huge hole in Dad’s life. With my sister and me living thousands of miles away, we wondered what would become of Dad.
We needn’t have worried. Members of the Oakhurst, California, Seventh-day Adventist Church stepped up to make sure Dad was cared for. They brought him food; they invited him to social events; he taught a Sabbath School class and served as an elder and deacon; he served on the fellowship dinner committee; he volunteered at the church school. In the years since Mom’s death, members of the church have kept him engaged and active. They were his second family.
Frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is what the church is supposed to do, right?
Yet after years of serving as a pastor, and being an elder in my own congregation, I know that this scenario, while ideal, doesn’t always happen. Sure, there’s an outpouring of sympathy and congregational concern immediately following one’s bereavement. But often the challenges of programs, routines, and initiatives drown out the priority of congregational care after a few weeks or months.
I talk to my dad every week (sometimes on Facetime if he can get his computer to work). Since he is 90 years old, our conversations are often punctuated with references to doctors’ appointments and other obligations (his and others’) that require a trip to Fresno, an hour’s drive from where he lives. He often travels with another church member or two. Sometimes he’s the driver; sometimes he’s the passenger. But he always enjoys being with other church members; they’re part of his family.
As advanced age has forced Dad to sell his house and move into a smaller place, who was it that stepped forward to help with the process of down-sizing, packing up, taking stuff to the dump, giving him a place to stay? Church members; church members; church members.
You can’t put a price on the services voluntarily provided by members of the Oakhurst church. (And if you could, who could afford it?)
The Greek word for church, ekklesia, contains the idea of “being called out.” It was originally used in a strictly secular sense to describe a gathering or assembly. I’m using the word in its Christian sense to call out the members of the Oakhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church for their willingness to go the second, third, and fourth mile to serve my dad and his family. They are Christ’s body on earth, not only for Dad but for countless others who live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The dictionary entry for “church” should have this notation: “See Oakhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church.”