Locust Fork does it right. An incredible congregation. Here’s the story –
Just this past September while rounding on one of his units, Chaplain Jeff Woods met a couple, the husband of which suffers from advancing dementia. The wife felt completely overwhelmed and that seized Jeff’s heart. He discerned that they could really use a good support team. The wife told Jeff that she wasn’t a member of any congregation currently but that they lived near Locust Fork, Alabama.
Jeff called me and told me about the family. “They could really use a support team. This woman doesn’t even have time to clean her house, and it’s really depressing her.”
“Where do they live,” I asked.
“Near Locust Fork, Alabama,” Jeff responded.
Well, it just so happens that we have a cracker jack group of Support Team practitioners at Locust Fork Baptist Church. I called their leader and coordinator, Mary Ann Crider and told her about Jeff, his patient, and the patient’s need. Mary Ann and Jeff talked. Mary Ann called the family.
“We have a house cleaning team,” Mary Ann informed the wife.
“And you’d just come and do that for me?”
“Why, yes! That’s what we do,” answered Mary Ann, and so Locust Fork Baptist Church launched their House Cleaning team, and the wife who’d been so overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude at the practical, disciplined love expressed to her by Locust Fork Baptist Church.
Now, here’s a bit of back story –
Back in January, one of our chaplains, Rev. Harlan Bailey, had befriended a patient and her family while rounding on one of our neuro units. She suffered from a central nervous system lymphoma and the husband recounted to Rev. Bailey that he simply didn’t know how he was going to hold everything together. Harlan told them about how our pastoral care department works with families to help them organize their practical support when they leave the hospital. They were intrigued, so Harlan introduced them to me and we talked some more.
That’s when the family told us about being a part of Locust Fork Baptist Church. They gave us a couple of names, one of them being Pat Standridge, and when we called her, she said, “Sure! I’ll get a few people together and let’s see what we can do!”
Harlan and I then drove up to Locust Fork on a Wednesday morning in early February, and Pat and company listened carefully as we told them about the Support Team methodology (which you can find spelled out in detail on this website and in multiple other blog posts – I’m not going to belabor those specifics here). Among the folks who attended that meeting was Mary Ann Crider.
Pat became the team leader for the patient and her family and as I learned this past Sunday (October 9), the team is still functioning, making adjustments appropriate for the changing family situation as any good Support Team will do. Mary Ann, however, along with some others with whom she works at Locust Fork, had an inspiration of imagination. She arranged for me to speak at a Wednesday evening Bible study. She had invited a number of people to attend along with the regular crowd and at the end of the service, people started signing up to be on different teams according to what they love to do. She also arranged for me to come back again and do a coaches training. At that meeting, I learned that they had organized their volunteers into ten teams, one of which was the house cleaning team to which I referred at the beginning of this post. (I’ll list all the teams at the end of this post.)
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the folks at Locust Fork. They’re warm, welcoming, smart, and passionate about doing service in their community. When I showed up for the Wednesday evening Bible study, Mary Ann brought me one of her peanut butter pies and another church member, Ronnie Dinkins, brought me a bag of organic heirloom tomatoes from his garden. AND . . . I had lunch with their pastor, Rev. Rufus Harris at a diner in town that makes the best donuts in Alabama, in my experience. Rev. Harris practices wise and creative pastoral leadership and evidently has won deep respect in the community because when we finished our lunch, the server came to our table and told us someone had already paid our bill. (I’m going to invite Rev. Harris to lunch more often.)
But it’s not just because I’ve come away with some pretty good loot when I leave Locust Fork, or some fantastic, home made donuts from the local diner, or a literal free lunch. It’s more because they’ve caught a vision for how a congregation can actually practice medicine through community. It’s because they’ve formed a meaningful partnership with the UAB Department of Pastoral Care, and by extension, have become an invaluable resource for UAB Medicine in general.
This is the kind of service that will begin to push back against the epidemic of loneliness sweeping our nation. I’m grateful for Locust Fork Baptist Church because they know they’re a healing presence in their community, and wherever healing is, there the spirit of God is.
I was reading a passage in Thomas Merton’s brilliant book, Disputed Questions. In it, he makes the following statement: “Our faith . . . is the needle by which we draw the thread of love through our neighbor’s soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together in one Christ. Our faith is given us not to see whether or not our neighbor is Christ, but to recognize Christ in him and to help our love make both him and ourselves more fully Christ.”
Or, as Mary Ann Crider put it perhaps more clearly: “You can tell ’em all day that you love ’em, but if you don’t show it, it doesn’t mean a thing.” In Locust Fork, their love means something profound.
Here are the 10 teams Locust Fork has formed and the link to their website: