by Edward Motschiedler—
The first Sabbath in one of my new churches turned out to be memorable for two reasons. The first reason was that the head elder, a retired physician, said while introducing me, “Well, our new young pastor just came from the seminary, and I’m sure he has some new ideas he wants to try out. But we know how to run things here and don’t need to do anything different. He can spend more time at his other churches.” I thought that this man was going to give me a lot of trouble and immediately wished someone else was the elder of the church.
The second memorable thing I noticed was that two elderly men were sitting in the very last row of the church while everyone else was sitting on the opposite side in the very front. When I met them after the service, I noticed that their clothes and shoes were dirty, and I was almost overwhelmed by their strong body odor. When I visited their home later, I saw empty food cans scattered around the floors and piles of dirty clothes laying on the furniture. I couldn’t understand how people could live like that.
At the time I had no idea how those two observations would affect my understanding of Christian hospitality and the role of church leadership.
After I had been at the church for several weeks, the elder and his wife invited my wife and me to their home for Sabbath dinner. When we arrived, I was quite surprised to see the two elderly brothers there. While the wife got dinner ready, I tried to coax the brothers into talking, with little success.
After the meal, the head elder left the dining room with one of the brothers. His wife then told me about the brothers and their ministry to them over the years. She said that the men were now in their eighties. The oldest brother had come back from World War I suffering from what was then called shell shock and is now called post traumatic stress disorder. Because the older brother was not able to take care of himself, his younger brother never married and devoted his life to being his caregiver. Sadly, the younger brother was now suffering from dementia, and they were barely able to take care of themselves. She said that she and her husband had been trying to help them for years.
“Every Sabbath morning, we pick them up at their house, and after church we bring them to our home. After the meal is finished, my husband takes one of them into the bathroom, helps him undress and get into the bathtub, washes him from head to foot, and shampoos his hair. Afterward he has a robe for him to slip into. He then sits the brother in a chair in the bathroom, kneels in front of him, and trims and cleans his fingernails and toenails. Then it’s the other brother’s turn. While the men are getting their baths, I gather up their dirty clothes and place them in a laundry basket for future washing. I then replace them with the clothes I washed from their last visit.”
Every Sabbath the brothers had their only hot meal of the week, their only bath of the week, and their only set of clean clothes to wear during the week, thanks to the hospitality of this wonderful couple. They did this week after week for years without anyone knowing.
While she was telling me the story, I was thinking that this is exactly what Jesus would have done if He had met the brothers. I could picture Jesus helping them into the bathtub, gently washing them, and then kneeling before them to clean and clip their nails.
Afterwards I regretted that I had so wrongly judged the elder, and I wished I had an elder like him in every church. Afterwards I prayed that my wife and I would be able to offer that kind of loving hospitality and encourage others to do the same.
Oh, and by the way, the elder was right. They did know how to run the church well, and I was able to give more time to the other churches. I also learned the valuable lesson of trusting church members to use their gifts in leading the church.
Edward Motschiedler spent 19 years as a pastor, 12 as Ohio Conference President, and 8 years as Executive Secretary of the Columbia Union Conference. He and his wife, Valeetah, a retired nursing professor, live in Riverside, California, and are leaders in the senior member ministry of the Azure Hills Church.