Each year the COMISS Network promotes Pastoral Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2017 is Hospitality: Cultivating Inclusion. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 4.
By Julie Gaines Walton
It was a sunny late-summer day. A tent had been set up outside in the parking lot. Smoke billowed out of the grill while a few of our maintenance staff flipped burgers. Music spilled out into the open air as an entertainer with a karaoke machine sang both Journey and Frank Sinatra. Laughter echoed as residents and staff sat and shared a meal together that our wonderful dining staff prepared. A few bold CNAs and residents danced around with one another, sharing knowing winks and smiles as they swayed. Our administrators bused our tables.
I sat at a table with fellow staff members and residents, looking around in awe at the beautiful spirit that had been created there. The cookout was more than just a community building event; it was a tangible reminder of the ways that we’ve created this community that can celebrate, serve, and love each other day by day, minute by minute.
I led worship at the CBFVA Fall Youth Retreat last weekend, and our speaker Bryce shared that beloved community is created with three basic elements: respect, love, and fun. I think all three of these elements fall under the larger umbrella of hospitality.
As a chaplain at Lakewood, I have the privilege of cultivating longer-term relationships with our residents and staff, and I often contemplate how we as a community can be inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable not only within ourselves but also in the broader community. In that way, my “type” of chaplaincy looks different than my husband Jeff’s, who works as a chaplain in a hospital setting and whose relationship with patients and their families may last only one visit.
I try to cultivate a sense of community through creating times for communal worship services, keeping our office door open for residents and staff to come and share what’s going on in their lives, and planning programs like our Seder meal led by a local Jewish chaplain or a walking labyrinth that we taped on the floor of our community space that was wide enough to be accessible by walkers and wheelchairs. It’s part of my job not only to offer care in crisis moments or through visitation, but to also help foster a sense of community and spiritual support.
I’m not alone in that work, though.
I learn so much from our residents and staff in how they show hospitality to one another. I’ve received spiced nuts and jars of homemade jam left by anonymous “little elves” at Christmas. I’ve seen our residents knit “plarn” mats out of old plastic bags for a local community center that ministers to folks who are homeless. I’ve watched our maintenance staff and environmental services staff grieve alongside the nurses, CNAs, and our residents the deaths of those we love as if they were our own family members. I’ve seen residents helping other residents by delivering their mail, volunteering in a different level of care weekly, visiting their friends who are sick, and making our community beautiful with their flower arranging. I’ve seen residents, their families, and staff support each other as they all work together to care for their loved ones as they go through health transitions. In each of these every day moments, our community is expressing love, respect, and enjoyment as a means of sharing hospitality with one another.
God is truly at work among each of us, both at Lakewood and in your community, bringing about God’s kingdom when we choose to love, respect, and have fun with each other. In a world filled with divisiveness and conflict, I can think of no better expression of our faith than to show hospitality and love our neighbors well each day. May God help us all to be faithful in doing so.
Julie works as a Chaplain with Lakewood Retirement Community, a faith-based continuing care retirement community in Richmond, Virginia. She is married to Jeff, who serves as a Chaplain with Bon Secours Health System.