The weekend before Christmas I got the call that my father was dying. A winter storm had already begun and there was no way anyone from the family would be able to travel to the assisted living center where he was.
My mother normally lives with Dad but she was two blocks away staying at a nursing home convalescing from surgery.
After 66 years of marriage, I knew they would want to spend this last time together.
After many frustrating phone calls with administrators, nurses, social workers, and an attorney it became clear that it was not going to be possible for anyone from either the nursing home or assisted living center to arrange for Mom to be taken to be with her dying husband. It looked like Dad would spend is last day on earth in his bed – alone.
So, I called Mom & Dad’s pastor, Pastor Mark Solyst, of First English Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He was already aware of the situation, he explained that he had a wedding but would call my parents friends and tell them to stand by for my call and “just do whatever he asks.”
I called the first number Pastor Mark provided and the woman on the other end of the call explained:
“Pastor told us what needs to happen, you already have enough trouble (my wife’s mother had just died two weeks before) don’t even think about it, it’s taken care of.” I tried to say few words and she forcefully reiterated “Mark, it is taken care of!”
Within the hour I received a text with a picture of my Mom all bundled up in her wheelchair being kidnapped by Lutherans and whisked out of her nursing home. A few moments later a text of a picture with Mom holding hands with Dad. A while later a picture of friends gathered around them with a Bible in deep prayer. Later a room full of people I didn’t even recognize singing Christmas carols to them. In the evening a picture of the pastor calling on them.
The church members had organized themselves in shifts to transport and stay with my parents through the whole day and evening, sometimes bolding proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, sometimes just sitting quietly so Mom and Dad could nap together.
There was no committee, no authorization by the church council, no pastor to read from the hymnal. Just wonderful people living out their faith in the middle of a snow storm, a priesthood of believers.
The next morning the roads were safer and Dad died as Mom held his hand, his sons and some grandchildren held him as I read the 23rd Psalm.
At the funeral, I tried to thank the nice man who had driven through the snowstorm to transport Mom. He rejected and even refused my thanks. He said, “That day with your parents was the greatest honor of my life.” That’s the thing about Christian ministry in whatever form, it is more of a blessing to those who serve than those served.
So, in the end, did the busy pastor get someone to do his job for him or did an excellent pastor, during his time of ministry there, empower and embolden the members to proclaim the gospel and be the church?
Pastor Mark A. Anderson
Assistant to the Bishop