THE REVEREND DEACON IRENE WALBACK
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” writes award winning author and theologian Frederick Buechner.
This “place” he writes of is the very place where we find deacons at work, living and loving their calling to serve God’s people. As the College of Deacons, we gather monthly on Zoom to learn and to share in conversations led by our chaplain, Tom Vaughan. What is often apparent is our hunger for conversations about the changing face of our ministries. Those in involved in food security programs have had to be creative in ways in which to gather and distribute food to those who have long been clients of this program along with creative ways in which to invite others whose needs are great to partake of the help that is offered. Many deacons are involved in offering worship at long-term care facilities as well as being attentive to folks in these homes who are at the end of life. For now, those ministries are curtailed awaiting the demise of the pandemic.
For me, one of my focuses is to serve as spiritual care worker at Guelph General Hospital. God’s call to me, inviting me to hospital chaplaincy, was clear from the moment I boldly walked into the spiritual care office shortly after my ordination 13 years ago and asked that I be taken on as a day chaplain. Sometimes the Spirit moves our feet and our hearts in ways we never imagined. Living as we do, 30 minutes from the hospital, I knew that it was not wise or fair to patients and staff to be expected to wait for me to arrive to attend to end of life or emergency events. A day’s commitment of pastoral care allowed many opportunities to build relationships with both staff and patients.
As of March 2020, my weekly walks of the hospital wards came to a halt. The loss of the opportunity to connect with patients and staff, to visit the birthing unit and ask for God’s blessing on newborns and their families grieves me greatly. This past year has been somewhat puzzling in just how do we continue to building community with those living with challenges, and how do we refine relationships to build trust among patients in long term care facilities.
We are brought into this world to build just those things, community and relationships, to nurture and nourish as best as we can with the gifts we are given. Emailing prayers of con- cern and encouragement, with expressions of gratitude to the staff of care facilities has taken the place of bedside prayers with patients and hallway conversations with staff. If only one individual reads our caring correspondence that’s okay, we have reached out as we are brought into being to do.
The Rector of All Saints in Erin, Joan Dunn, serves on a half-time basis. Joan’s one Sunday away a month allows me to offer Morning Prayer worship and to preach. It is an awe-filled challenge for me to read through the liturgy for the day, and to study the scriptures in an effort to discern what is being said through those words and to recognize how each reading supports and compliments all those chosen for the day. Aha moments are in fact God moments, gifts of discernment to enlighten us during our studying time, gifts to guide and direct us a homily unfolds before us.
Reading through the writings of scholars and theologians is more than confusing at times, yet is entirely a welcomed confusion eventually leading to clarity of heart and mind when the time comes to compose a homily. As a sometimes preacher I find it rewarding when a parishioner inquires of how I determined what I expressed during a homily. It means that yes, an individual was listening intently and a question opens a time for mutual discussion. That’s a step in building com- munity! Sharing the theme of a homily with the scheduled lay reader, well before worship date, allows that individual to incorporate the general theme of the homily into the prayers they compose and will offer during worship. That’s continuing in a relationship.
Erin has a Royal Canadian Legion in the village. I am honoured to be their chaplain and have been so for 13 years.
This year our Remembrance Day continued in an honourable manner though with few in attendance as spectators were discouraged from being present. Following our remembrance at the cenotaph we then proceeded to the Erin Union Cemetery where we offered thanksgiving for our military interned in that sacred place, for their families and for all who continue to serve. I pray that November 11, 2021 allows us to gather as we have in previous years, to take time at the cenotaph and to gather at the Legion where all local clergy participate in a service of thanksgiving. For now I continue to support our veterans and members of the Legion through various communication devices. Whether by phone or text or email we continue to build a caring community.
I begin my writing of this column with a minor indication of the variety of ministries the members of the College of Deacons of Niagara offer. I close with another quote, the source is unknown to me, and it is this “We come into life to give certain gifts. If we don’t give them who else will? We are so unique, individual, it would be a precious gift lost to the world if we didn’t share.”
Let us all continue to offer our gifts as best we are able. It is why we were gifted the precious breath of life. Amen.