By Laura Netherton
Since I was raised in a Catholic church and attended Catholic schools, service seemed second nature to my husband, Ron, and to me. I never recall describing it as service, per se, and we certainly never counted our “service hours” to fill a quota or receive some special recognition.
We did it because our parents did it as did theirs before them. I did it because my father told my sisters and me that it was our church, our school, our family and our community, and God expected it of us.
Obviously, we were just following the actions of those before us, and I hope I have passed on this calling to my own two children.
Oddly, even as a young person, I realized that the time we spent doing for others was rarely drudgery. Instead, I believe that I reap the rewards as well; not monetary awards or a personal recognition, but the reward of knowing I am doing God’s work.
For the last 20 years, the service my husband and I engaged in seemed to revolve around our children and our extended families. While our children, Renee and Clayton, were enrolled at St. Agnes School we practically lived at the church and school, and we continued to donate our time to Presentation Academy and Trinity High School.
Then, there was a point in our lives when we were not only serving our families, church, schools, community and employers, but we also became members of the sandwich generation.
We, along with our siblings, helped care for my father, my childless aunt, my mother-in-law and an elderly neighbor with no family. We never thought of it as service. We thought of it as doing the right thing.
In a five year span, I endured four long goodbyes with these loving people and one abrupt heart-breaking death with the unexpected loss of my saintly step-mother due to an accident. All of this background brings me to 2013. My daughter was out of college, my son was at the University of Kentucky, and I literally had no pill packs to fill, no one to call and check on and no one to take to the doctor.
For the first time in 20 years, it was my husband and me and our jobs. While the free time was a luxury, and I did relish it, there was a yearning for something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew God had something planned for me.
Then I read an article about the BeFriender Ministry through the Archdiocese of Louisville. I cut out the article and carried it in my purse for a month. I wondered if I could do this. I had spent the last five years in hospitals and nursing homes and enjoyed talking to the other patients and residents.
I finally met with Michelle Herberger, the coordinator of Pastoral Care Ministries for the archdiocese, and learned of the need.
Due to HIPPA privacy regulations, many parishes don’t know they have members hospitalized. In addition, there are many more patients who have felt alienated by the church for one reason or another and could benefit from a caring smile or a word of encouragement from a caring Christian.
Since I began my visits at the University of Louisville Hospital, I have encountered some amazing people from all walks of life. I have heard their stories and their hardships and triumphs, and I am better for listening to them. I stress listening because that hasn’t been one of my strong suits. Talking, on the other hand, has never been a problem.
I think God sent me to these people to comfort them and to teach me to truly listen. I have found such a profound presence of the Holy Spirit most of the time without saying a word.
One woman in particular never spoke, but only cried because of a recent diagnosis. I held her hand for what seemed like an eternity, but that was all she wanted from me. I have learned so much about true patience, my own faith, my prejudices and my fellow man. I have prayed with people from all faiths, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. For one night a week, I truly empty my cup and try to be a blessing to a stranger in that moment. As a result, my eyes and my heart have opened, and I have truly learned to listen the rest of the week.
Like service so often does, the BeFriender Ministry has become a true blessing in my life.
Pastoral care ministers are needed at area hospitals. Several information sessions about this ministry are planned in the coming weeks. For more information, contact Michelle Herberger, coordinator of Pastoral Care Ministries in the Family Ministries Office, at 636-0296 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Netherton is a parishioner of St. Agnes Church.