It’s All About Remembering

One of my absolute favorite ministry moments has to do with our organist in Geddes, SD.  Her name was Elta Williams.  Elta played the organ at the church until she was in her late 80’s!  In fact, in her later years’ folks would tell stories of how sometimes she would nod off during a “certain pastor’s” sermon and her left foot would fall on the organ foot pedal and make a deep noise that would then jolt her back to life!  I loved Elta!  She was the sweetest woman.  When I would visit her, she would always give me 2 or 3 calendars she had collected from all the non-profits she gave to.  “There are so many good ones out there,” she said, “I just want to help them all!”  And she did! She had stacks of letters and calendars thanking her for her generosity!

After 5 years of living in Geddes, I moved to Mitchell, SD. Mitchell was just an hour away from Geddes.  One Sunday afternoon I was asked to preach at one of the nursing care facilities in town and there, sitting in the front row, was Elta.  I couldn’t believe it.  Her family had moved to a care facility.   As I began to lead worship, I noticed that we didn’t have a piano player.  I turned to Elta and asked, “Elta, could you play for us?” Elta looked at me like I was from another planet.  “Me?!” she said, “Well, I don’t even play piano!” Well I knew Elta was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but to totally forget playing the piano?   I couldn’t believe it.  I wheeled her up to the piano and said, “Elta, can you at least give it a try for me?” I put a hymnal up on the piano and opened it to “Amazing Grace.”  I had heard Elta play this tune over 20 times in my life.  I gently placed Elta’s hands on the ivory keys.  For a moment I was wondering if she’d remember, and then, miraculously she started to play a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” on the piano.  She was playing from heart.  It was as if her fingers knew what her mind didn’t. The look of wonder and surprise on Elta’s face was worth all the oil in Texas!  “I can play the piano, Pastor Brook!  Look!” Tears of joy fell from her eyes, and mine as well. Elta had forgotten that she had this beautiful gift. And here in this God-breaking-in moment she was reconnected to her giftedness.  

Richard Rohr (watch out I’m on Richard Rohr kick lately) shares in one of his statements about sin, that the real problem we humans have in this world is that we forget!  We forget that we have been endowed from the beginning of time with God’s light and love.  Every Sunday we are reminded, but when we “step” across the boundary of the diving realm into the “real” world, we forget!  We forget who we are and whose we are. We forget how much we are loved.  We forget that we are indeed never alone.  Forgetfulness is what we must constantly struggle against. Our faith tradition then, is meant to guide us to uncover our true identity deeply buried under the layer of our neglectful and forgetful nature.

The job of the church (you and I) then, is to remind people and each other of the one thing that we tend to forget…that we are loved.  That we have value.  That we are gifted from the get-go with the greatest gift ever…God’s grace! We do that by a smile, a hi, a hug (with permission), a note, an encouraging word, a slap on the back, a hi-five, and so much more. 

One of the ways it comes to me is as people come up for holy communion during worship.  So, may times I see tears in folks’ eyes as they and I are reminded that we belong, that we are loved, that we held true by an amazing love that knows no bounds!

Your friend and pastor, always in need of the reminder that we are loved, Brook

Tim Schaaf