Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

PASTORAL MINISTRY AMONG GOD’S FORGOTTEN PEOPLE

She looked at me through the glass door, perplexed, frustrated, lost, questioning. Why was the door locked, why couldn’t she come out? It was a beautiful hot summer day with the temperature around 35 degrees.

Ivy is close to eighty years old, but she can shuffle and move around. Yes, she can express her displeasure, but who will listen? It’s for her own good that she is locked in. Hot weather can kill, and it’s hard to get the residents to drink. But can Ivy know that? All she knows is that she is locked in. She is alone, away from her family and friends, in a strange place of strange routines.

Peter is not yet 21 years old. Sometimes he loses his temper and throws things at people. He doesn’t like being called names. He has nightmares and is on medication to help him cope with living. He has a job, but he gets bored. There is nothing for him to do, no other young people for him to hang out with. Peter has been coming to the chapel for quite a while. He likes to talk about Jesus, and prays for others or asks for prayer. There is nothing wrong with the way he looks, and he can talk. But he can’t read or write. What does the future hold for him?

There is a chap from Oodnadatta, Charlie, who loves to play the piano or get hold of the guitar for a twang. He used to scare me because he got angry when others made a noise during worship. But now he hasn’t been to the chapel for more than a year, because he’s been moved into the community house, and no-one can, or will, take him to services. But when Charlie sees me at the garden centre, he comes over and gives me a hug and a kiss, and touches my arm – so gentle, like a breeze. He tells me his latest news and troubles at which I have to guess. It is so hard to understand what he says. But I try to stay and listen for a while; then he goes back to his job.

The infirmary is another place to visit. Alan lies there, silent without a murmur, a twisted frame of a body. But his eyes speak a million words, and follow my every move. There is so much noise and hardly time for him to rest. Except for a frown and a closing of his lids, there is nothing left that he can do. So I croon a song of Jesus in his ear and say the Lord’s Prayer loud enough for him to hear.

At worship last month, a crowd of eighteen comes, and some come and go. But we play the songs and pray. We talk about Jesus, and how he healed a man with sores. How Jesus was not afraid to touch the sick man. The music is fine and we sing as loud as we can. We give each person a tambourine or whatever we have for people to join in our worship of God. Faces are lit and lives are touched by the presence of God. We call them disabled, but who can stop the Spirit touching them? Their spirits are alive and willing to join Jesus our Lord.

Sometimes I’ve been invited to join a Christmas dinner dance. The music plays and the disco begins, but some are shy and won’t join in. I’m no champion dancer by any means, but to see the pleasure on their faces for simply being part of the scene, makes up for the aching limbs.

There are other stories I could tell, but you understand my pain as well. So much could be done, but so few are able to come and receive what should not be denied to any child of God. There is not much money made available to spend on people hidden behind doors for their own good, and there is fear of that which is little understood. But there they are, hundreds of them, lonely, bewildered, cut off from all. Where is a complete ministry for them?

Ingeborg Hickey
(Inge is a Lutheran lay-chaplain at Adelaide’s
Strathmont Centre for intellectually disabled people.
She has long sensed a call to public ministry in the church).
Note: Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

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