Sunday, March 11, 2007

Assistance is part of the job

Helping people or offering assistance is a big part of my job. Not that it takes up a lot of time, but it does on some days. It is an uncomfortable part of the work I do, and it is a necessary part as well. I act as more of a screen than anything. If I hear a story that is crying out for Pastoral Care, I am the first one to usher the visitor across the hall. Most of the time, however, it is not Pastoral Care that sends in visitors who ask for it. It is the need or want for other kinds of help. Help with rent or utilities or food or gas. It does not feel good for me to be playing judge and jury on other people’s needs, it is really a challenge. I think of every assistance case that walks through the door, “ That might be me tomorrow”. Ugh. I have created a system that seems to ease some of that anxiety for me- I ask questions and require lots of documentation of needs, and I listen. I listen because usually something inside me will eventually say- trust or don’t. In an effort to build community, I partner up with neighboring churches when I can so that we can be equally aware of circumstances and sometimes, we get to work together to really make a difference. We’ve helped get someone into an apartment, and we helped a family with a new baby hold on until they came and stayed at work church with WIHN. Those are happy times.
My home church offers back door snack bags and bus tickets two hours a week. I used to help with that before I came over to work church. I got to know several of the “regulars” so when those same faces began appearing at work church, well, we were both surprised. Now, that time has passed those few regulars are not so surprised. Most of them, anyway.
There is a woman who has become very confused because on occasion, I will still volunteer to help at home church and on those days, many of them, she has appeared, only to wonder for a brief second which church she is approaching because I am there when maybe I should be across the way at work church. Or maybe SHE is at work church, or maybe who’s on first…. The church secretary, (me) at work church has helped her on enough occasions that she calls me by my first name, and when I gave her the news that we could not help her anymore ( because we had offered our limit) she continued calling just to ask me if enough time had passed yet. Or yet, or yet. Finally, one day, she called and just said, “are you every going to help me again?” And I had to say, probably not. That is hard. But I find that there are times when the consideration of enabling comes to mind and I try to back away from that trap. She still waves at me when I drive by the bus stop, but she has finally stopped calling.
Another regular has taken to coming by about every 2 or 3 weeks just to tell me how things are or are not going. He doesn’t always ask for money. Sometimes he asks for marital advice, and , although I have told him countless times that I am the CHURCH SECRETARY, not the PASTOR, he still comes to talk. So, I’ve just accepted the fact that he needs a listener. The two times he actually made appointmenst with the pastor, he didn’t show. I may have written of that here. Anyway, we are, in his eyes, best buds, I guess. Yesterday, I found a note from him in my mail cubbie that said, “ Melardy, ( well, he got part of it right, the Mel) (his name) Hi. I came by to talk to you but missed you. I’ll stop by later, (his name)
Just like a note I’d leave for my office neighbor, or for the pastor, only it is from a man I don’t know at all and at the same time, I know enough.
Once, I came back from lunch to find a woman in a motorized wheel chair. She was parked right in the doorway of the Fellowship Hall where she could stay up to speed on the comings and goings of work church. I talked to her, and found that there wasn’t anything we could really do for her. She was appalled. She did not realize that helping her purchase furniture was not in the job description of assistance help from us. I apologized for the misunderstanding – to no avail- and finally gave up trying to explain the difference between the priority need of having your power cut off vs. buying a new couch. She was very angry and I returned to my office. A few minutes later, I found her still parked in the doorway of the fellowship hall. Her face held that grimace I had just walked away from moments ago. I got the courage to approach her anyway.
“ Mrs. Smith, is there something else I can do for you today? I have already explained to you about the furniture.” Right about then, a buzzer buzzed and she leaned over and pulled a plug from the wall. “ I thought the least you could do is recharge my chair. I’ll be on my way, now.”
And off she went.

The front desk receptionist volunteers, my lovely honored friends, will tell you that i handle that part of church life great greater greatest!! But the truth is they are relieved that when I'm there, they don't have to worry about it. I can't blame them for that. If I wasn't me, I'd be glad if I was there, too.


loonygin said...

Your "work church" appreciates all the little and big extras that you do. VA

Belle said...

You really are great greater greatest at that particular part of your job. And to me, that part is a major reason that our church is a viable part of this community.

Churchrobin said...

I didn't get the spiritual gift of assistance so I say, "our system isn't set up for that," or somesuch version. It's the truth. My work church sends its money and resources to nearby agencies who do train, do screen, do feed, do assist.

I was born skeptical so when I hear the same story for the 5th time in the same day I can't help but wonder if the script is posted on the pole on the corner—which is an old old trick. I listen a lot too, sometimes even pass the person on to a pastor if there is one in the office, but generally, walk ins just don't get assisted at my work church.

The other thing is sometimes they aren't nice about hearing our system isn't set up to help them and get a little whacky. As the biggest one in the office, it's my job to stand up and move them out. I can block a doorway with no trouble. (That isn't actually in my job description but does fall under other duties as assigned.) When they move on, I go back to my nest and pray. Our system is set up for that.