Standing outside room 314 at a local retirement community, parishioner Nancy Banitch knocked lightly next to the bronze nameplate of Betty Sacchetti’s apartment. Betty was sitting in her chair in a beautiful striped blouse, bundled in what looked to be the softest blanket in the world.
Her face lit up at the sight of Nancy and me, as if she had been waiting
all morning for this special occasion—a Eucharistic visit. Nancy began to unpack her traveling Communion kit, dutifully unfolding a small white cross embroidered linen cloth, setting out a chalice and a paten on which the
“We’re having our Christmas banquet this afternoon, soon after this and the whole place is talking about it,” Betty said, with a certain amount of glee in her eyes. “It’s really important we remain grateful for everything we have around Christmas, especially in a time when there is so much complaining and negativity.”
Soon after, the mood changed to one of holiness as Nancy began the shortened liturgy used by Eucharistic Visitors. “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” came the familiar line, cueing the beginning of something sacred to come.
The summary was casual—a conversation about the meaning of the Root of Jesse and the depth of the Scripture.
Then came the fulcrum of the visit: the Communion of the People. “The gifts of God for the people of God,” said Nancy, words spoken around the world just before the receiving of the bread and wine by parishioners.
Betty took the wafer, then the chalice, handling it with a delicate care, almost as if they were too fragile to be held by human hands. The intimate service concluded with a prayer that captures the essence of the visit. Church member and Eucharistic Visitor Peggy Kwoka says, “The EVs give thanks for feeding our visitee with the Sacrament, praying ‘we thank you for enriching our parish family by his/her sharing with us the food of our pilgrimage.’”
“It’s hard for me to get in and out of the pew and go down to the rail. So, I just decided it was best to stay home,” Betty explained. “This ministry means everything to me. It means that my religious needs are taken care of. That was the missing link for me, to get Communion. And there was no way I was going to get it unless someone brought it to me. So it has made me feel like I’m whole, in other words, I’m taken care of spiritually.”
According to the American Medical Association, 3.4 million people over the age of 65 in nursing facilities and private residences never leave their homes. “We have a lot of people who can’t get to church,” says Deacon Ginny Kivel at Transfiguration. “We visit people of all ages in all sorts of environments, from hospitals to rehab centers, houses to assisted living facilities.” When people are unable to attend church and unable to maintain a physical connection with their faith family, it can become difficult to feel a sense of belonging.
“From earliest times, the Church has made efforts to carry the bread and wine of the Eucharist to those not able to gather with the community,” explains Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri, who provides pastoral oversight to Transfiguration. “The sacramental inclusion of everyone, and the broadest possible extension of community, are practices at the heart of the Episcopal Church’s life.”
The impact felt by those who are visited is repeatedly expressed to those involved in the ministry. “They say things like, ‘Thank you for sending someone to me, it really helps me feel valued’,” says Deacon Ginny. “All of them are deeply grateful to be connected to the Body of Christ this way. When they receive Communion, they receive visible, tangible symbols of the church’s presence. It makes our community complete.”
But the impact of the Eucharistic Visitor ministry is not limited to those who are visited. “I get excited to see each person, especially as our relationship grows after a few visits,” says church member and Eucharistic Visitor Judy Drotman. “I’m thrilled when someone asks about a trip I’ve taken or remembers that the food pantry always needs grocery bags. For a short time, we are celebrating a simple Sunday ritual!”
Back in room 314, as I go in for a hug with Betty, she asks for one of the most basic needs a Christian can request: prayer. She passes along a prayer request to the clergy and me, and I assure her I’ll add her request to my daily prayers. Most special though, she ensures me that she’ll pray for the church and for my happiness during the holidays.
This article was taken from the Winter issue of Illumine, a quarterly magazine from Transfiguration. You can read the full publication here.
About the Author
Judson Watkins is the Director of Communications at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration. Previously he was the Communications Director at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas and worked at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. Judson studied religion and communications at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas. He was born and raised in East Texas, where he gained an appreciation for all things outdoors. Click here to contact Judson.