I have had the honor of being a hospice volunteer for 20 years, the last 5 giving pastoral care to patients and their families at their request. Sharing this part of life with these dear people has provided some of the most rewarding moments in ministry to me.
Oswego County Hospice provides most excellent care for the families they serve. In what is usually the most trying of times for a family, the administration, care providers and volunteers of our hospice organization treat them all with the dignity and respect they deserve, providing emotional and practical help to each one.
Once a year, Oswego County Hospice holds a memorial service for all of their patients from the previous year. This touching ceremony allows us to say good bye to those who have passed as well as letting their families know that they are remembered as well.
Due to the on-going restrictions in place because of Covid-19, the memorial service was help virtually again this year. I’ve included a link to it should you care to share in this experience with us. Also included is Betsy and my presentation of “On Eagles Wings.” We sing it to honor those who have passed and as an encouragement to those left with holes in their heart.
I have been at this ministry thing for quite some time now. It has been a challenging time in many ways; challenges that without God’s constant help and support I never could have withstood. It has also been a time of countless blessings. These have come in every shape and type imaginable. The joy and peace God has bestowed on our efforts in His name fill my heart with gratitude.
Suffice to say, I have experienced a large range of emotion in doing Kingdom work. Please note that I did not say the full range of emotion, because I experienced a new one to me yesterday.
Allow me to give you some background first. As many of you are aware, Lakeside Christian Ministries primary purpose is to meet people where they are, sharing the Good News of God’s love for them. Jesus met folks this way and we see no need to improve on or change His method.
As I have mentioned in the past, we have had a long-standing relationship with a group of people who live in one of the low-income housing projects here in Fulton. We gather on Sunday evenings for fellowship, a bible lesson and prayer. This time has been one of the biggest blessings God has given me. The warmth of love and the desire to know more about God there has been wonderful. We are humbled to be placed where God is moving hearts.
You may also remember that this part of our ministry was birthed from a Hospice patient who had wanted pastoral care. God formed a connection from our very first meeting (more than three years ago!) that grew into various other family members, neighbors and the occasional stranger coming to their apartment to be prayed with or merely talked to about Jesus. Many interesting questions came from these encounters that led to mini-sermons that weekend.
Sadly for us, this dear Saint was called home to the Lord a month ago. We rejoice that she now is living in the fullness of joy with the Savior, but we miss her here.
The concern Betsy and I had about providing continuity at her passing was seemingly assuaged when one of the neighbors who would join us from time to time on a Sunday, invited us into her apartment. Wonderful, we thought.
However, prior to what would have been the second week gathering at her place, she left me a voice mail saying she had other things going on and would not be available. I returned her call, assuring her that we understood and looked forward to seeing her again the next Sunday.
Yesterday (Thursday), I received another voice mail. This one was quite different in tone. She told me that we could no longer gather in her apartment and that she was simply not interested in spending any more time with us.
Wow, I thought as I played the recording. This is a new one. A feeling of rejection came over me. Selfishly, I thought of myself first. Hadn’t I given of my time to be with her? Didn’t I make every effort to listen kindly to all questions and concerns? I felt rejected, there is no other way to put it.
Praying about this last evening and again before bed, I sensed God ministering to my heart. The Lord certainly knows a thing or two about rejection, even telling His disciples that they would be rejected because of Him. In His gentle way, God was leading me out of any self-pity I had so that I could refocus on Him. I prayed for this dear lady and drifted off to sleep.
This morning I awoke to a new sense of hope that only could have come from the Lord. I am assured to the depth of my heart that God’s plan is going forward in Fulton and that He would have us be a part of it. I repented of my self-centeredness and asked Him to show the way!
And though it has not yet been confirmed, I believe we will have a new place to minister this Sunday. One of the long-time attendees has recently moved from those apartments to a senior high-rise here in town. Something tells me we are heading there next!
Please stay tuned. I will let you know what God is up to here!
Thanks for reading. Please pray for our ministry that we honor God in all we do.
According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.
This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.
Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)
This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.
I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.
The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!
And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.
But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.
To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.
That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.
Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.
From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.
Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!
This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.
I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.
I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.
Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.
I would like to acknowledge and say a big THANK YOU to all of you who have recently started following this blog. I truly appreciate the time you take to read and respond.
For those who have been reading, putting up with, and/or groaning over the past 3+ years, a hearty thanks to you as well!
It occurs to me that those falling under the newer category might not know all the backstory that comes along with me. I’d like to take this opportunity to allow you the opportunity to catch up!
As I am embarking on a somewhat new aspect of my journey as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have been asked to write an essay introducing myself to the folks who will be considering me for a Rostered (ordained) ministry position within the Lutheran Church. The following is an excerpt from that essay. It is my hope that you, New Dear Reader, will take the time to get to know me a little better (and for those who have heard much of this, you may hit the like button and be on your way).
Thanks once again for sharing the ride with me.
Part 1: My Story
I was born on January 11th, 1960 in Oswego New York to Kenneth and Evelyn Copps. I have one older brother, Carl. I had a happy home-life growing up in in that small town. My parents provided for all our needs and most of my wants in a caring way. Dad worked full-time as a machinist while Mom stayed at home. I had some close friends through the years and it seemed we always congregated at my house. It was warm and open to everyone.
My parents were Roman Catholic and raised my brother and me in that faith. It never meant much to me as I saw going to church largely as an inconvenience on my time. Other than Confirmation, weekly Mass was my only exposure to Catholicism. Things of faith were rarely if ever brought up at home. Tending to shirk responsibility in those days, I was more than happy to do my 60 minutes per week at church and leave faith at that.
At the age of eighteen I opted out of regular church attendance, going back only to be married in 1983. My wife and I attended her local church, Holy Family in Fulton, New York for a brief period after marriage, but that attendance soon faltered as well.
I was well into the downward spiral of alcoholism at this point. The ensuing years are a blur even now. Finally, with my health failing, my wife ready to leave and at the brink of financial disaster, I sought help. A three week stay in a detox-center followed by a 28-day rehab helped prepare me to live a sober life.
It is at the beginning of recovery that my faith life came to be. In fact, I count both my sobriety date and the date of my salvation the same: May 3rd, 1991. It seems that the Bible stories I sat through as a child had some affect after all! I knew in my spirit that the Higher Power the AA literature speaks of was in fact Jesus Christ. I received His forgiveness at the detox-center and have been a follower of His ever since.
That last sentence hardly speaks to the wonder of these last 29 years. I owe a great debt of thanks to Pastor Brent Dahlseng. He took a great interest in my spiritual journey. He encouraged me to read God’s word and to become a person of prayer. He was a tremendous mentor and friend as he helped me navigate my new life with purpose.
God has been faithfully persistent as He continues to call me to His service. Starting as a Small-Group apprentice leader, I have now had the privilege of being on many different prayer ministries as well as hospital visitation teams.
As the Lord has helped me to discern His call on my life, I attended seminary (Rockbridge Seminary) and was granted a Master of Divinity in 2014. We had begun a home ministry by this point and the schooling and training the seminary provided me had enriched my ability to serve. This has proved especially true in my Hospice work as I provide pastoral care to patients and their families.
I was ordained by the Elim Fellowship of Lima, New York in April of 2018. I have had the pleasure to officiate at weddings and our home ministry is now ‘on the road,’ as we serve people in their homes by providing bible study, counseling and the opportunity to worship.
It is with much anticipation that I enter into this next phase of ministry. I continue to trust God will reveal His will to me as I embrace a deeper understanding of Lutheran theology in the service of the church.
Most everyone is familiar with the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ That homey saying reminds us to not be so quick to judge someone or something with just a glance, but rather to make the effort to gather more information before drawing a conclusion. God, as He so often does, gave me another lesson on the validity of this saying yesterday.
As many of you know, I have the privilege of providing pastoral care for Oswego County Hospice. Oswego County, for those of you not versed in Central New York geography, is a large place, covering 1,312 square miles. Yet within all that territory, only a little over 122,000 people live. As you may have guessed, we are a predominantly rural place.
To their credit, Oswego County Hospice, utilizing us volunteers to the utmost, brings its amazing level of care to every inch of ground within these borders. I have never been involved with an organization that brings such excellent care to each and every patient and family in their program. And as a pastor, being able to step into the lives of people and their families as the end of this life nears is both tremendously fulfilling and humbling.
I had another hospice call yesterday but before I could endeavor to bring pastoral care, God wanted me to remind me to not judge a book by its cover. This call was to one of the very rural areas I mentioned earlier (to my credit, I only got loss once on the way there!). When i finally arrived, I was greeted at the door by one of the two sons who were providing the care necessary so that their mom could be at home for the end of her life.
He welcomed me in and as I was greeting the two dogs that met me, he brought in his other brother and my reminder lesson on not judging the book too early began. This fellow, not bothering with a shirt in spite of the 35-degree weather, shook my hand. Most of his exposed flesh was covered with what I knew to prison-work tattoos, including his shaved head. All that ink, along with the guarded look in his eyes as he sized me up, made my pre-judging abilities leap to the front.
Now that He had made me ready, God taught me the lesson I need to learn again and again. This second brother brought me in to see his mom. As he did, I noticed a wonderful transformation take place. His voice softened as he tended to his mother, helping to arrange pillows to make her as comfortable as possible. He then introduced me and quietly left the room. I sat and talked very briefly with the patient and prayed over her as she slipped back to sleep.
I excused myself and was ready to leave when the ink-covered son asked me if I had prayed with his mom. I told him yes and to my surprise, he asked if he could join me to pray again for her.
We went back into the bedroom, where this man prayed one of the most heart felt prayers I have ever been blessed to hear. He thanked God for his mom and her long life. He praised God for allowing him to come from so far away to spend these last precious days with her and his brother. He asked for mercy that she may pass peacefully, all in God’s time.
As he finished, I put my arm around him and said how moving that prayer had been. With tears in my eyes, we stood to say our goodbyes. It was then that I noticed the tears on his face too, the visible sign of his love and devotion to his mom, regardless of what his past may or may not have been.
I drove home thanking God for this man and the lesson he helped me to learn again about not judging a book by its cover.
There are times, though not very often, when I think about what kind of mark I will leave on the world. Will my wife remember me as a partner who adored her? Will my kids recall me with fondness? Did I allow enough of my heart to be transparent; so that through the ups and downs of life my family will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my love for them never wavered?
With regard to ministry; how will the people God placed in my life and under my care remember me? My desire has always been that they know my everyday intention is to have God glorified through what we shared together. Have I lived out the Gospel in such a way that Christ is more fully in their hearts through what I have taught?
As I said, these types of thoughts don’t rattle through my brain too often. Yet as I have mentioned here before, as I draw ever more away from the start of my life and closer to its human end, thinking about my legacy does happen from time to time.
This most recent journey into this recess of my mind has come about because of an individual I met last week. I received a request from a family in hospice care that they wanted a pastoral care visit. No more details were given me, so I on the drive to their home some of the more usual questions and my responses to them went through mind. You see, the full awareness of one’s time being up on earth has a definite tendency to focus thoughts about the process of dying and what may lay beyond.
As I was greeted by the sad smile of the caregiver, I felt as ready as I could be to meet the patient. Was I wrong!
That’s not to say I was totally off base. Some things were as expected. I was introduced to a patient who was obviously near death. The frail and gaunt body told me all I needed to know about the physical condition: Cancer was wreaking its usual havoc at the end stage of life.
But this is not the memory I will carry from this meeting. What touched me so deeply was the absolute peace this person exuded. Though in obvious pain that the meds couldn’t alleviate, his eyes fixed on me with more care than I have seen in a long, long time.
We chatted briefly about the journey through life; of the many places seen because of work and family. I am always blessed when folks share these personal nuggets from their past. Losing track of time, I probably could have sat there all afternoon. But the conversation lagged and then stopped. I wondered if it was time for me to excuse myself, thinking that fatigue and pain were winning out.
What became apparent next was that it wasn’t tiredness that had quieted our chat, but rather that the patient was gathering the strength he needed to finish our time together the way he wanted it to end.
As best as I can remember, this is what he said to me: “Tell your parishioners this, ‘Think of others more than yourself. Be ready and willing to help out in practical ways. Don’t simply tell people that you love them, live your love for them in front of their very eyes. I made this my primary goal in life, and as my time here is up, I am so very glad I did.’”
It was crystal clear to me that these weren’t merely words said in an attempt to comfort oneself when faced with imminent death. They were spoken with a genuine desire that they be shared so that others could see what I was witnessing; peace. Peace from a life well lived.
What an incredible legacy! I share this with you, my Faithful Readers, to encourage you as it has encouraged me to look beyond myself and into the eyes and hearts of others. If I can incorporate this level of caring into my everyday lifestyle, I need not worry about what kind of legacy I am leaving behind. The patient I met last week certainly wasn’t worried about it; may you and I find that same level of peace from our lives well lived too.
Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team. I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted. The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families. I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is. Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work. When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.
Truthfully, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task. After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality. Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies. All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life. This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face
Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program. It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process. This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic. Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.
All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).
To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer. Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle. What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God. In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.
Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.
I met Mary a little over a year ago. As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death. On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened. Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.
As Mary listened, a peace came over her. Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago. I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.
It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work. Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him. At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present. Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.
One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny. One look at him as I walked in told me much about him. He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him. He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently. A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked. After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him. With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed. We held hands and I prayed.
I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me. I prayed for Danny in this way. In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply. I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.
Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him. As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away. He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater. He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live. His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.
I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business. The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to. There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved. God is healing. The bible says that nothing is too hard for God. Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!
Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!