Often it is hard to know how to live our Christian values. Here is how one man answered a decades-old call after retiring from a successful law practice.
Although I did not realize it at the time, my call to an ordained ministry began about three decades ago when I began attending the Wednesday morning Eucharist at Christ Church in downtown Cincinnati before it was consecrated a cathedral. I needed the sacrament to get through the week, but it was not until the Rev. Jim Hanisian asked me to become a lay reader for worship services at the Church of the Redeemer that I understood the joy of sharing my faith with others. Reading the epistle and passing the cup were soon among my most rewarding activities, so much so that when the Rev. David Cottrill asked for lay readers for the older adults living at the Marjorie P. Lee Community, I volunteered. Next came an opportunity to serve as a lay Eucharistic visitor. Here I saw the power of the sacrament to engage and empower people regardless of their physical conditions.
The time was approaching when I would cross the invisible but very real chasm from practicing law to retirement. God had given me the ability to concentrate my life on serving him, and I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip. So I began the three-year process to become a deacon at the same time that I began the process to withdraw from my law firm.
During my training for the diaconate, I served two years as a ministry intern with the Rev. Stephen Cuff at Marjorie P. Lee to discern a ministry with older adults. The internship confirmed that this was my calling. A few days after leaving the law firm, I was ordained a deacon in Christ Church Cathedral on May 10, 2010, and became an assistant chaplain at Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS).
On Sundays, I serve with the ERS chaplain, the Rev. Angelo Puopolo, at Marjorie P. Lee and the Deupree House, another Episcopal retirement community in Cincinnati. Twice a month, I serve with Fr. Angelo at the Deupree Cottages, which provide special care for twenty-four residents in two new buildings near the Deupree House. I lead Bible studies and distribute communion at the Cottages and lead Bible studies at St. Paul Village in Madisonville and St. Pius Place in South Cumminsville, two of ERS’ affordable living communities for seniors. I also read poetry at Marjorie P. Lee and the Deupree Cottages and assist Fr. Puopolo, as needed.
Because I am an older adult myself, I have a lot in common with the people I serve. They are from the generation that provided my teachers and professors, and I long ago heard from older family members about events that formed their lives before I was born. This often makes it easier for me to connect with them than with much younger people.
All older adults have this in common: they are loved by God and worthy of our attention and respect. I know that the worst mistake we can make is to label someone with a diagnosis, as if a diagnosis can define a person. Regardless of their physical condition, there is always someone there. Again and again, I see people with perceived disabilities who have deep spiritual insights they are able to share. What a gift it is to know them.
Bible studies are a wonderful way to connect with people of different ages and races and backgrounds, so I always try to make the lesson challenging and personal. I find that when people are taught with care and respect, they either experience or develop a need for a deeper understanding of God. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says that the teacher’s first message is always, “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life for you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.” My greatest joy is to see people respond to this.
The 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning service at the cathedral is now Morning Prayer, and I still attend. I would welcome anyone who wishes to join me. There’s no telling what adventure God may have in store for us.