Post Author: Stephanie Sorge

Trinity member Lauren Strawderman held 5 week old Micah while the author unpacked boxes. Lauren continues to be Micah’s second mom at church.

“Does the Pastoral Care team care for the Pastor or for other people?” It was a fair question from one of the new Elders at his first meeting, a day-long visioning and planning retreat for the Session, the church council elected by the congregation. I responded, “Sometimes both, but most of the time it’s coordinating care for church members and friends.”

As I responded in the present, my mind traveled through the past. That January meeting marked 3 years since the moving truck arrived in Harrisonburg with all of our family’s belongings – almost to the day. I had a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 week old with me, and arrived first at my new church, where the many boxes of books would be unloaded. Mary Lou, the chair of the search committee that called me, was there to present me with my key to the kingdom, and after boxes were unloaded, she followed us over to the townhouse to help on that end.

She wasn’t alone. Over the course of the day and in days following, a number of folks came through to offer their help. They unpacked boxes. They broke them down and took them away. They put dishes in the cupboards and they held the baby so I could get a few things done (clearly the most coveted job). Food arrived. Diapers. As I assessed some new needs – toy and book storage – Larry and Donna went shopping. I was five weeks postpartum and needed to take it easier than I would have preferred. But they took care of me.

On my first Sunday in the pulpit, I was busy trying to get everything together and Lauren, another member of the search committee, came in to take the baby off of my hands. From that week on, Lauren was Micah’s church buddy. It was Lauren who was first able to get Micah to take a bottle. To this day, Lauren sits right behind me, usually with Micah in her lap, wanting to read books, and he recently referred to her as “the one he loves so much.” Lauren and Mike, Bryce and Chris, Dawn, Susie, Abby, and Anne are just a few who have had turns babysitting, taking the boys to the children’s museum, their favorite playground, horseback riding, or on some other fun adventures. They take care of us.

Ash Wednesday was early that first year, and minutes before I went to lead the service, I got a call that Isaac had the flu, despite having had his flu shot. His baby brother, just two months old, was too young for the flu shot, and just as Isaac was getting better, Micah started getting worse. With labored breathing and difficulty eating, I took him to the ER, where we were quickly sent back to a bay. The look of alarm on the nurses’ faces sent my heart racing. The diagnosis was bronchiolitis in conjunction with flu and RSV. With hospital grade suctioning done, he was finally able to nurse, but his oxygen saturation was still too low. We spent the next five days and nights in the hospital together, Micah on oxygen and me running on fumes. Help and love came in many forms. They took care of us.

In June, almost half a year in, I was finally starting to get my feet underneath me, when I literally lost my footing. It was a very bad sprain. They took care of me. The following year, in a Pastoral Care team meeting, I broke down into tears. I was facing difficult decisions about childcare and I hadn’t realized how emotionally taxing it had been. They took care of me.

I could continue to add verses, but the chorus remains the same. Even before I arrived to be their pastor, the wonderful community of faith that gathers at Trinity Presbyterian Church has been taking care of me and my family, providing the best pastoral care I’ve ever experienced. They love me, a fact that says everything about who they are and very little about me. They enjoy singing “they will know we are Christians by our love,” and they bear it out in more ways than I will ever know. They take care of me, and they take care of each other.

I wish I could say that all churches do this, but sadly that’s not the case. I won’t tell tales, because this is all about love. I love my congregation, and they love me so well. They inspire me to be a better person, but they also love me just as I am. This is what grace looks like. This is what the body of Christ looks like. When one member suffers, all suffer with it, and when one is honored, the rejoicing can’t be contained.

It should come as no surprise that this care extends far beyond the walls of the church. They live out love on a daily basis in the community, in many different organizations that they serve, through outreach to refugees and immigrants, in clothes sorted and washed and mended to be given out each week at our Clothes Closet, in a playground that is a neighborhood destination, in protecting the environment, and in extending God’s love to all people, regardless of age, race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, religion, or any other barrier.

Recently Mary Lou came by the office to drop something off for me. It was a “Shoo Box,” crafted by Hearts and Hands, a group that knits prayer shawls and creates these boxes to extend love and care where it is needed, when it is needed. The Shoo Box shoos the blues away. It is full of many different items, and I can choose one a day or as needed when I need a little extra pastoral care. Many of the items are hand-made or enhanced with hand-made details. The level of care put into each item – and the box as a whole – is so apparent. It’s not as though I needed any more proof of their love, but each card uncovered, each chocolate unwrapped, the whiff of lavender emanating from a yet-to-be-opened gift all surround me with love and care when I need it most. They are tangible reminders of God’s abundant love, poured out in their loving pastoral care.

This is love. This is grace. This is the body of Christ reaching out in the hearts and hands of ordinary people. And they take such good care of me.

Stephanie is grateful to serve alongside and be cared for by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Her two boys love going to church, where they know beyond doubt that they are loved and welcomed.

Image by: Stephanie Sorge
Used with permission
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