By Richard Shullaw
Originally published in the 10/15/23 bulletin
Do you ever wonder who those people are gathering with the priest after Communion to receive a blessing before returning to their seats in the congregation? They are Homebound Communion Ministers who bring the Eucharist, liturgical readings, and companionship to those parishioners who have long-term health and mobility challenges that prevent them from coming to Mass. The homebound are in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, and are visited on a weekly basis.
I hope to provide some background on the ministry, how it is performed, and the rich spiritual and emotional rewards we receive as ministers. I also want to make the parish more aware of this ministry, in case you have loved ones who are not able to attend services at Holy Trinity and participate in person in the Eucharist.
I have been involved in the Homebound Ministry since 1992, and I am sure that long-time parishioners would tell me that the ministry has been in existence at Holy Trinity for many years before that. I became a homebound minister shortly after the death of my mother.
My parents lived in an 1820’s townhouse in Chelsea, London. During the last months of her life, my mother’s great joy was to have the pastor at their local church come to give her Communion. My father would meet him at the door with a lighted candle and walk with him up the four flights of stairs to my mother’s bedroom. I was there several times for these visits and saw how my mother’s face would brighten with joy, the lines of pain briefly erased. That image of the comfort provided to the sick and homebound in receiving the Eucharist has stayed with me through the years as I visit the Holy Trinity homebound. It amplifies the message we so often hear in the Gospel, of Christ providing comfort and care to the sick.
One of the goals of the ministry is to ensure that those we visit understand that they remain an important part of the parish. The priests who bless us as we receive our pyxes containing the Eucharist remind us to tell those we visit that they are thought of and prayed for. We visit parishioners who are still in their homes, and others who live in assisted living or memory care facilities. (Visits to those in Georgetown Hospital are part of a separate ministry run from the hospital; some of our homebound ministers also serve in that ministry.)
In a typical visit, we share the readings of the day from the Old and New Testaments and the Gospel. We provide any insights we may have from the readings or the sermon and bring news of the parish. I have found that doing this increases my own understanding of the readings and the messages we have received during Mass. We ask whether they have anything for which they wish to pray, to have them become active participants in the service. We give the Eucharist and conclude with prayer. While the primary purpose of our visits is sacramental, a secondary and very important goal is to provide those we visit with a sense of community. A number of those we visit, especially those in assisted living, have limited contact with others: many do not have family, or get infrequent visits from those they still have contact with.
By providing companionship and care to the homebound, we reach out to them with empathy and compassion, and in doing so, we are providing rewards to ourselves as well. As ministers, we often establish long-lasting relationships with those we visit. One of those we visited for many years passed away a few years ago at 102; we started seeing her when she was in her mid 80’s. When she turned 100, we put together a book of letters from individual ministers who had visited her over the years in which they expressed their gratitude for her message of faith, which she often amplified by giving us a needlepoint she had made with the name of Jesus.
Another parishioner suffered from multiple sclerosis. We visited him for more than ten years, becoming close friends with his family. One of those I currently visit is living at an assisted living facility and is Brazilian, with limited English. His face lights up with a broad smile when I appear. When I pray the Our Father as part of the service, he prays it in Portuguese.
Providing the homebound ministry over the years has been a wonderful reward for us, enriching our faith. In doing so, we actively support the mission of Holy Trinity, to accompany the homebound in Christ, to celebrate the love that God has for all of us, and to help enrich our lives and the lives \of those we visit through compassion and empathy.
If you would like more information about the ministry, please reach out to Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org