Thursday, December 8, 2011

nursing homes

This morning I was belting out Christmas Carols at the nursing home communion service I do once a month.  As we were singing O Come All Ye Faithful, I thought to myself, "now it feels like Advent".
Most of the residents really don't sing,
but they kinda do.

I found myself wondering if I will ever be in a nursing home, and if I am, will a nice pastor come and sing Christmas Carols and offer the Lord's Supper to me?   Will I care?  

I find the nursing home a lonely, stark and holy place. 
People at the stage of life where their lights are flickering softly, instead of being in the fire of life.   The wrinkled skins, the faint smell of urine, the dried up pea soup on a shirt...
the bad teeth...
the minds that wander back and forth through  the past to the present. 
Will I be there someday?

Since the service is ecumenical, all sorts are rolled in, slumped in their wheel chairs.  Many of them have a look of surprise when I offer them the Bread of Life, and the Cup of Promise--as if they just noticed I was there in their sphere.  Some of the people open their mouths for me to place the host on their tongues (not my tradition at all, but over the years I have gotten pretty good at keeping it sanitary and not actually touching their tongues....) or they hold the host in their hands and stare at it.  The tiny cups of God's promise is more popular--some sip it like a fine wine, some gulp down the sweet juice, smack their lips, and say "yummy!"    I never know what to expect.  

At the end, after I have given the benediction, I go to each resident, and bless them.
It's humbling and empowering.
God bless you.
God loves you.
They respond, "Thank You"
or today, "God loves you, dear."

I think receiving blessings from elders is almost sacramental. That holy.

As I said, the nursing home.  It is a stark, lonely, and holy place.


  1. My CPE was a year-long residency at a nursing home on the locked, advanced-stage alzheimer's unit. Once a month I offered a worship service...and what you reflect on resonates with my experience....powerful, profound, thought-provoking experiences. "Bless you, dear" indeed!

  2. Thank you for posting this. I find some nursing homes stark, others well looked after with visits by children, craft activities, animals to touch, visiting singers. Many of the older residents do remember the words of old songs and church songs. I have played for two special Carol services so far and already feel a bit carolled out. My favourite is 'In the Bleak Midwinter' though it has nothing to do with our hot December days.