Joy Sawatzky, Souderton
As I reflect on my call to minister as a chaplain at Dock Meadows I have to admit my work as a chaplain did not begin so much as a call by God, but as an opportunity â€“ a job opportunity. I have known for quite some time that my greater call is as a sacred storyteller and I have the privilege to be able to do that work. When the position as a chaplain came open at Dock Meadows I thought it might be a good place to try using story as a vehicle for pastoral care. Also, I already knew many of the residents there, I had completed a year of residency as a chaplain while still in South Florida, I also spent many years planning and leading worship in various settings, and besides â€“ I was wanting to let go of some night shift work that I was working at the time. â€œWhy not?â€ I asked myself and took the job.
I did not actively pursue being licensed immediately after I began the position. I had been licensed before, as a pastor of a Mennonite congregation in South Florida. I knew that licensing normally leads to ordination, and I was somewhat ambivalent about the thought of that. Again, nothing new for me, as I had been approved for ordination by the Southeast Mennonite Conference back in 1992 and had declined, not feeling â€˜calledâ€™ at the time.
I take being called by God very seriously; as the compass of my life, actually. With the job at Dock Meadows I found myself facing the question of whether it was call or convenience that brought me there. Even more important to me, if I pursued being licensed and eventually ordination would that somehow work to limit the creative spirit and expressions of spirituality that I live by?
Then a funny thing happened on the way to my licensing interview. I began to become aware of what was happening in my everyday experiences at Dock Meadows. Amidst the memorial services and chapel services, the pastoral care and worship leading and planning, I was being extended a grace to be myself that was new to me. In fact, it seemed like the Dock Meadows residents not only excelled in accepting me for who I was â€“ they expected and enjoyed it when I was my most creative self. In return, my attention to creative detail and continual offering of Godâ€™s grace and hope to them helped them to feel cared for in a way that they had known for some time. What a wonderful combination! The amazing thing for me was that I was experiencing healing in ways that I had not even known how to ask for, and found myself realizing that God had indeed called me to this place for this time. The catch was that it was not for what I could do for the residents, but what they could do for me. The mutual benefit has been an overall sense in the community of well-being and â€˜belovednessâ€™.
There are challenges, as there are with ministering in any community setting. The various expressions of faith provide plenty of opportunity to educate, to understand each other, and to lead in different ways to worship and celebrate Godâ€™s presence. There are those stuck in their limited ways of thinking and their life limiting behaviors that no amount of pastoral care will influence.
I continually work to find ways to expand the world for those living in the facility â€“ providing opportunities for them to collect coins for Bridge of Hope BuxMont, gathering pennies for Mennonite Central Committeeâ€™s Penny Power collection, and reminding them that the world out there needs our prayers and awareness. Their generous spirits come through each time. Our chapels three times a week are called, â€˜Sharing Hopeâ€™, to welcome the widest variety of people.
Somewhere along the way to my licensing interview I decided that I was in fact called. Providing for the spiritual life in a retirement community when done with your whole heart, in a way that respects the wisdom and life experiences gathered is not â€˜ministry liteâ€™ compared to ministry in a congregation. I am filled with extreme gratitude for the opportunity to have my life and gifts intersect with the lives and wisdom of those I work with regularly. I look forward to the next step of ordination with much anticipation and delight.