Monday, June 25, 2007

The Emergency Phone

Bethany has an emergency phone that members can call if they need a pastor at night or on weekends. It was my first time on the rotation and Mark handed me the phone, commenting that it rarely rings. I stuck it in my pocket without much thought.

Of course, at 1 AM that very first night I am startled awake by an unfamiliar ringing noise. I jump out of bed and answer, “Hello, this is Elaine Wilder.” The person on the other end explains that they are calling from Summerville Hospital, that “John Doe” has passed away and his wife wanted to notify the church. I said thank you and that someone would be there as soon as possible. I hung up the phone, shocked. The Bethany staff gave me the phone, but never told me what to do if it rang! I had never provided pastoral care surrounding a death before. Nerves were building. I knew I was headed to the hospital.

I turned on the light and opened my closet. What does a female pastor wear to the hospital in the middle of the night? The male pastors at Bethany would wear a clerical collar, but I don’t have one. I didn’t want to look too formal, but this wasn’t a casual situation either. I decided on a suitable outfit and jumped in my car.

As I was driving, I started to calm down. I began praying that God would use me to bring peace and comfort, and that God would give me the appropriate words.

I entered the ICU room where the body lay. John’s wife was there filling out paperwork. She recognized me as the summer intern and we embraced. She immediately told me that she was thankful for 36 wonderful years of marriage. I listened as she continued to share memories. We spoke of how we were grateful that John’s suffering had finally come to an end. Once the daughter arrived, we all gathered around John’s body to pray. We shared a lovely prayer together, offering thanksgiving for John’s life and prayers for John as he moved on to eternal life. I wrote down my phone number and left the family to have some private time together.

What a privilege it is to offer care to a family during a death. I have never felt so honored in my entire life. God truly does bless us with the words and gifts we need for our ministry. I am thankful for this, my first opportunity, to minister to a grieving family.

I have the on-call phone for the next two weeks. While I hope it never has to ring, I look forward to responding if it does.

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