A Great Thanksgiving: Lay Ministry in Action

Communion is a strange ritual. I’m always mystified as I chew the bread. Eating the body of Christ? My son enjoys the mid-service “snack,” and makes terrible remarks about zombies eating bodies. I sincerely attempt to explain to him communion’s significance, but my fuzzy explanation only demonstrates how baffled I am.

Probably there’s something in the fact that the word “mystery” hides shyly in the invitation that precedes communion every month. I’m beginning to sense that part of Christianity is being able to be with things we don’t understand, that Christian scripture and ritual are of God’s logic, not ours. But after spending some time with Glenn lay minister Carolyn Roper, that logic feels a bit less mysterious.

We met in the lobby of AG Rhodes Health & Rehab the day after Valentine’s Day. Carolyn was there to bring communion to Linda Merkle, a Glenn member recovering from a broken hip, and invited me along so I could see one of the ways lay ministers serve.

Carolyn is one of 15 Glenn lay ministers. Each has completed six months of pastoral care training, under the direction of Emory Chaplain Woody Spackman. Dorothy Chitwood, another Glenn lay minister, says trainees learn how to talk with people who are in health and other crises. “People usually just want to tell their story,” she says. “We don’t have profound answers but are delighted to talk and are honored and humbled to be with them.” All discussions are completely confidential, she says, and lay ministers are very open to talking with anyone.

I followed Carolyn up to Linda’s room, and she was up and about, getting around very well on her walker, a strong recovery after only a month. We arranged a couple chairs next to Linda’s bed and Carolyn opened a small black case containing thimble-sized plastic cups, communion wafers and a laminated card printed with an abbreviation of The Great Thanksgiving. She opened a small bottle of grape juice, poured three cups and began to read the invitation. Handing each of us a wafer, she reminded Linda that it was the body of Christ, given for her, and then reminded me that it was the body of Christ, given for me. Next she offered each of us a clear plastic cup of grape juice that was the blood of Christ, given for us. Then Linda presented wafer and juice to Carolyn, repeated the reminder: the body of Christ given for Carolyn, the blood of Christ, given for Carolyn. Finally, Carolyn led us in prayer and then closed her black box.

 Carolyn (left) and Linda (right) serving communion to one another.

Carolyn (left) and Linda (right) serving communion to one another.

C.S. Lewis said one of the reasons we go to church is to be reminded of what we believe. Carolyn says Glenn’s lay ministers bring the church to those who can’t come on their own to help them remember their relationship to God and to church. They deliver church bulletins to the bed ridden, sit with those who have just lost a loved one, accompany the ailing through their travails at the hospital, and just generally serve as reminders of God’s love. Independently, both Carolyn and Dorothy said they committed to the sacrifice and demands of lay ministry because they were called to.

The day before, Carolyn had whisked Linda away to a reunion of the Jake Ward class at Glenn. The outing granted Linda what she described as a “God moment.”  The fellowship, the music, the singing, the food all brought to her a feeling of love and belonging. “I felt my place was there,” she said.


Irene Hatchett