We ate the bread first, a small pinch of dinner roll Fred’s wife had found in the kitchen after we had discovered we forgot to bring the small wafers with us.
Gary Edlind, the church’s director of visitation, had brought me along for a visit with the Morrises at their Sunnyside apartment. He distributed the dry morsels of bread to Fred and Lorna and me. “This is the body of Christ, broken for you,” Gary said, and we ate.
A few moments of silence passed, and Gary then gave us the second part of our meal. “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
We sipped from our small cups, and then we prayed.
It was a holy moment, one of the deeper times of coming to the Lord’s Table that I have experienced. Though Fred and Lorna are decades older than me, with years more wisdom than me, we stood before our Maker as equals, confessing our common faith in a simple meal of bread and juice.
Gary mentioned to me that, because of the Parkinson’s disease Fred has battled since 2001, and because of his age, that Fred was losing the ability to read the Bible. It was a painful loss for a man who spent much of his adult life writing Bible commentaries as a missionary. Gary wondered if I’d be willing to come read scripture to Fred every few weeks.
I agreed, and every week or so for a little over a year, Fred and I have visited together for an hour or so, usually on Sunday afternoons. I read a passage, usually something from the Psalms or something I have read or heard the previous week. Sometimes, Fred will ask for me to read a passage he has stored up in his mind that he can’t fully recall.
After reading, Fred and I pray, and I’m often moved by the depth of Fred’s faith as he remembers the Lord’s promises, even promises of glory that await my aged friend.
One time, I took my oldest daughter, Emma, with me to visit Fred. As we prayed, three generations of believers approaching the Father, Fred asked God to bless my daughter and to work in her life to bring glory to Jesus. As we were walking back to the car to go home, Emma tried to explain what it meant to be prayed for by a man of so many years’ faith. She could not find words, but I sensed she was deeply moved. She knew it was a holy moment.
A few months ago, Fred began having more trouble walking, and he fell a few times. After short hospital stay, he moved from his Sunnyside apartment in the Highlands to the assisted-living unit. Parkinson’s is a thief, slowly robbing the central nervous system of the ability to control body movements. Symptoms worsen over time, and there is no cure.
When Fred moved to assisted living, he and I accelerated a project we had been occasionally working on during our time together: compiling his life story from his birth in Australia to his work in the Australian navy to his decades of missionary work. After reading scripture and praying together, I’ve been reading his book to him aloud, and he has dictated changes he wants to make.
His urgency in finishing the project has been clear. I now understand why: Lorna, Fred’s wife of more than 50 years, recently told me that one day, Parkinson’s could take Fred’s ability to speak.
Though his voice quivers now and is weak, his spiritual voice is strong as ever. He quotes scripture. His prayers are mighty, and I often sense the Spirit with us. He also often tells me about nurses and volunteers that he has shared the gospel with or encouraged during the previous week. Fred struggles each day, and yet he does not let it stop him from telling others the good news.
Each time I leave Fred, I reach out my right hand and grasp his. “God bless,” he’ll usually say in that Australian accent I’ve enjoyed since the moment we met. “Blessings, Fred,” I’ll usually respond, looking him in the eyes. “I’ll see you soon.”
Update: Fred passed away on September 13, 2018. The book he and the author worked on was completed several months prior to his death.
Maybe you’d like to bring joy to some of our covenant partners who can’t make it to church anymore. Contact Gary Edlind, and he’d be glad to find a way for you to serve.