In our own Voices

"Before I came to St Luke’s, I worked at University of Houston System in many capacities. I had many colleagues, of course, but one of them stood out for his goodness and joy of life, a very talented young man named Karl Kabus. Toward the end of my time at St Luke’s, Karl was diagnosed with AIDS, which we all remember in those days meant just one thing. I was strongly called to stay with Karl through his journey, but I admit I felt a huge inadequacy and fear of what was to come and how I “would do.” A pitifully wrong concern, of course. But I had a new friend, and I asked her to help me help Karl. Helen was wonderfully engaging, and the three of us enjoyed such good visits and shared pizza and laughter and tears.

But Karl became sicker and sicker, and one night towards the very end, he was admitted to Park Plaza Hospital in Houston, which in those days was a place where many many AIDS patients went to die. I was in his dimly-lit room one evening along with Karl’s mother, who had come down from their very small town in Kansas, where Karl was born and raised. I could see she was being engulfed in waves of fear and horror and discomfort and love and more fear.  I was, perfectly honestly, not at that moment a very robust instrument of the love of God. But into the room comes Helen, who literally climbs up on the bed and gathers Karl into her arms. She holds and nurtures him, as he moved in and out of consciousness. And as she held him and caressed him, she beamed her radiant smile at Karl’s mother with all the kindness in the world, and she said, “Look, look at your beautiful son.”

It was a moment of connection, of healing, of community, and of the perfection of love. 

I will always remember that moment and be grateful for those who made it possible and for what it invited me to participate in. I understood in a most powerful way what the Community of Hope was, is, and must continue to be for this suffering world." 

Carla Cooper | Former Development Advisor | Community of Hope Board of Directors 

I find deep and abiding nourishment in Christian community and pastoral ministry. Both sustain me and allow me to see life as a whole. I’m the product of parents who spent 21 years serving as Presbyterian missionaries in Iran. I was born and lived there for the first 13 years of my life. My parents’ ministry continued in the US after we left Iran in 1979. Now in their 80’s, my mom and dad’s faith continues to inspire my ministry in ways I’m just now starting to grasp.

My early years offered me the foundation for Christian servanthood but what I lacked was formal training and a toolkit for living out my calling. I started on this road of discovery four years ago by completing a year of hospital chaplaincy (Clinical Pastoral Education/CPE) at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. In addition to time in the classroom I logged 300+ of “on call” hours serving in pediatric ICU and trauma. Needless to say hospital chaplaincy equipped me with new pastoral skills but left me with tough “why God” questions.  

In April, 2013 I was asked to attend a Community of Hope (COHI) conference at Camp Allen. At the time I was new to Good Shepherd’s staff and went to Camp Allen to glean as much as I could to determine whether it would be a complement to our pastoral offerings.  I was also looking for more tools for my pastoral toolkit and was open to what COHI had to offer. The experience transformed my Christian walk.  

The conference attendees were priests, deacons, women’s ministry, welcome and outreach leaders and hospital chaplains who viewed their work as pastoral. And their definition of pastoral included all ministries where people were being welcomed as Christ, served and taught. 

I learned that 2,000 years ago a monastic named Benedict had a profound grasp of human nature and through his Rule he set clear expectations and guidance about living in Christian community. I also discovered that the practical teachings on pastoral themes are fundamental parts of the COH training but fist and foremost the COH experience is about a spiritual journey with Benedict. 

Perhaps the most beneficial learning for me was that what happens after the training is at the heart of COH. The monthly Circle of Care gatherings include ongoing spiritual formation and the communion its fellowship offers. They are also times to reflect on spiritual and emotional responses to pastoral encounters. Ironically, in the last year personal circumstances have brought me to my knees and asking “why God” yet I’ve been sustained by this Community and its way of life.  

Good Shepherd launched it’s first training in 2013 and has offered four classes. I’m forever grateful for my COHI experience and believe there are so many ways to apply it to ALL ministry that we do. COH founder Helen Appelberg’s quote at the beginning of my testimonial perfectly embodies what it’s about. I’m sold, are you?\

Catherine Pryor Miller, COHI Co-Regional Representative | Southwest Region

 "When I first became acquainted with Community of Hope, I was thinking in terms of what a good fit it might be for my congregation.  However, what I got was so much more than I ever dreamed.

Community of Hope enabled me to deepen and broaden my own spiritual walk and equipped me with leadership and pastoral skills. The Community of Hope training followed by on-going support and education has enabled my congregation to grow into a community where it is okay to risk, to care deeply for others, and to live out the good news in all circumstances. Whereas I was looking for a pastoral caregiver program; what I got was a spiritual transformation."

Beverly Davis | Director of Congregational Care and Lay Chaplain | Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas

COHI Regional Representative, Heritage Region

"Being a COHI training facilitator at my church is truly a blessing for me.  Attending all the classes as the curriculum is being presented to a new training class gives me the privilege of watching communities being formed and lives being impacted.  What a joy to see a group of 8 to 12 people bond and become a true community over the 14 weeks of training. At our center, not only do the lay chaplains-in-training form community with each other but also with other members of our Circle of Care (who often attend the classes and often provide meals for the class). 

When a module such as Family Systems or Confidentiality and Debriefing are taught by special leaders, I have witnessed genuinely moving reactions by class members which lead to sharing of experiences and a great deal of comradery. The most recent example of this was when a social worker from a local nursing home was teaching the Confidentiality and Debriefing module to our 2015 COHI Class.  One class member mentioned in the beginning of his question that he was a Vietnam vet.  The social worker immediately said, “Thank you for your service”.  Those words of gratitude obviously meant a great deal to this man.  There was some discussion about the impacts that the time in Vietnam had on this man’s life from then until the present.  (His wife later said she had never heard him express most of those thoughts before).  The social worker mentioned that she had several vets as patients at her nursing home and would he like to visit some of them.  Our class member was delighted at the prospect.  A few days later the social worker arranged the first visit and it was a roaring success. The visits to the vets in the nursing home have continued and are a source of comfort and joy to our class member and the vets at the nursing home."

Pam Heidt |COHI Lay Chaplain | St. Peter’s Episcopal Church | Rockport, Texas

COHI Board of Directors, Vice-President

"I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do my Clinical Pastoral Education through Community of Hope (COHI), which trains and supports lay pastoral caregivers. The program is rooted in Benedictine spirituality; we are encouraged to read from the Rule of Benedict daily, to learn to look for God in all those we encounter, practice purposeful hospitality, and to balance work, prayer, study, and leisure in our daily lives.

My COHI classes and the Rule of Benedict reading were the most clear and understandable way anybody has given me about living a life guided by faith. For the first time, I was presented a set of guidelines that made sense and didn’t seem impossible to keep.

Benedictine spirituality is all about being aware of the presence of God, both in our own lives and in the lives of others—a cornerstone of COHI training. When we can see God in others, we are more mindful of preserving their dignity. When we can see God in others, we are better able to love our neighbor, love our enemy. And when we see God in others, we can see how God is working through them. So often, we are unable to see how God is working in our own lives until after the fact, but we may be able to help encourage others to see God in what they are experiencing.

The Rule provides me with guidance to nurture my own faith in a community of believers so that we can share God’s love and the message of the Gospel with others, not just through our own words but through our very lives, through all that we do. Upholding the dignity of others, of all of God’s creation, is an intentional focus for the Rule and for the Community of Hope."

Rev. Sue Irvin | St. Paul Lutheran Church | Nordheim, Texas

"COH was introduced to me as a way that our church, St. Julian of Norwich, could participate in lay pastoral caring.  After viewing the COHI website, my husband and I took the training in the spring of 2014.  Then I went to Conference in June.  Wow!  Three days spent in the presence of God and all those loving people.  St. Julian began its first training last October and will be commissioned April 26, 2015.  We began as strangers, mostly, and grew to be a community – one of hope, love and support of each other, joy in being present with others and showing God’s love.  My spirit itself is peaceful and hungry, eager to grow more close each day to the Holy Spirit, through reading, community, listening.  God has finally shown me where He wants me."

Pat Beachy | Training Facilitator and Lay Chaplain | St. Julian Episcopal Church | Norwich, Texas

"We have a CoH Caregiver who is a 90-year-old former Catholic priest.  He is now an Episcopalian.  This person has struggled for years to find a place of ministry within the Episcopal church.  He has remained (in his heart) identified with the priesthood.  So, during his training, he struggled with grief and needing a sense of identity, expressing his heart in a lot of disgruntlement!  Our group has supported him in prayer, and with a lot of patience.  About 6 months ago, he began to go to several nursing homes to conduct a service of singing with the residents.  As he continued and matured with his singing ministry, he was granted by our priest the ministry of taking Eucharist (from our services) to any nursing home residents who wanted it.  He has become a totally different and happy person!  He knows that he is being used by God and the church to minister to those with whom he certainly identifies, since he is 90 years old!  We, in the COH community, have seen an about-face transformation, one for which we prayed, in our dear caregiver.  Thanks be to God!"

Jan Lundy | Facilitator | Chapel of Our Savior Episcopal Church, Colorado Springs, CO

"In 2000, I was serving on our Vestry and commented to Bishop Larry Maze that I was interested in training for pastoral care.  Our parish is in a retirement community and we have a congregation of retirees with various medical needs.  He told me Madge Brown, who was the diocesan liaison for Community of Hope, would be exhibiting information about Community of Hope at the 2001 annual convention.  At that time, there were only two training centers in Arkansas.  I subsequently met with Madge and I was convinced that God was giving me a call for pastoral care.  I attended a 14-week training session in 2001 and was then commissioned.

The training prepared me for pastoral care visits, such as listening to the care receiver and providing spiritual support for someone in crisis.  I worked very closely with our rector at the time.  Since 2001, we have had five training sessions at our church.  Currently, we have seven active chaplains.

The most compelling experiences that I have had were during the year we were without a rector. Our chaplains were called upon many times to visit those suffering from an illness or a loss. Our chaplains also are Lay Eucharistic Visitors.  Serving communion to someone in the hospital or home bound spiritually enriches the pastoral care visit.  During that year, we had several deaths.  Twice, I was called during the final hours of parishioners.  Saying the prayers for the dying and being there for the family were the deepest spiritual experiences I have ever had.  My Community of Hope training prepared me for these experiences."

Patricia Shaha | Holy Trinity Episcopal Church | Hot Springs Village, AR

COHI Regional Representative, South Region

"Prayer has always been a part of my life. But, when I took the Community of Hope (COH) training in the late 1990’s and began to learn about Benedictine spirituality, my prayer life became deeper and more purposeful. Prayer continues to provide the path for becoming the person God created me to be. Through the Rule of Benedict, we are guided into unceasing prayer and oneness with God. I feel that eventually our entire lives become a prayer. Personal and communal prayer are at the center of COH. We are encouraged to set aside time for contemplative prayer which is the foundation for other kinds of prayer. To be humble and still before God, leads to a greater love of God and love for others in community. Benedictine prayer life has shown me that prayer is a way of loving God, spending time with him, and responding to his call to leave self behind, which is very necessary to serve in a pastoral care ministry…it is my lifeline to God.”

Jennifer Sassin | Secretary, COHI Board of Directors and COH Lay Chaplain |  Pohick Episcopal Church | Lorton, Virginia

"My mother and aunts taught me to write thank you notes when I received a gift. I am thankful for Community of Hope and for the ministry has meant to me.

As a parishioner of Christ Episcopal Church, Nacogdoches, Texas, I had heard Community of Hope being publicized. Part of pastoral care team and I wondered like Wise Men, “What is this ministry?” We determined to travel to Tyler, Texas to Christ Episcopal Church to discover whether this was a ministry for us.

The Reverend Helen Appelberg gathered 40 of us from 13 different churches and 8 denominations in a circle. She began by calling upon the Holy Spirit to come.  At that moment my life was enriched and changed. Helen taught us for several weeks as we moved through the training modules learning to hone our natural talents and spiritual gifts to become lay pastoral caregivers.

Community of Hope was exactly what I had been searching for: the affirmation of being called to caregiving ministry and the credentials to go about the ministry of pastoral care. I was encouraged and knew how to use listening skills, the gift of compassion, and the desire to serve God for others.

In saying, “Yes”, to Community of Hope training as a lay pastoral caregiver, the call of becoming a priest was also supported and became a reality.  Now 17 years later, I am so very thankful for my training, the friends that I have made through Community of Hope, and the men and women’s lives that I know have been changed by that ministry.   Thank you."

The Reverend Patsy G. Barham, Priest-in-charge | St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Henderson, Texas

Former President Community of Hope International | Serving currently as Chaplain and Regional Representative Coordinator –COHI

We knocked three times softly on the door of his apartment, but really only needed to knock once even softer, because the door opened so quickly.  There Jeremy stood, a little man of some 80 years, long white beard, already dressed in his red plaid flannel pajamas even though it was barely 6 pm.  The most striking thing about Jeremy, though, wasn’t the beard or even the pajamas:  it was the utter delight and hunger in his eyes, hungry for a visit, for personal contact, that someone had taken the time to come and check on him, inquire about him, learn more of his story either of the distant past or the very immediate present as is the usual case with older ones, just to listen and show some love.

My experience of our visit, as they usually go, went something like this.  I had had a busy and hectic day, and when my phone alarm went off at 4:30 signaling that I needed to wind things down, really unfinished things – you know the things of work that seem so urgent at the time – I felt this pit in my stomach, for I knew it signaled the need to make the trek across town to visit Jeremy, the unknown and uneasiness of a new visit, the feeling of inadequacy, the flesh of resistance.  I let it be there, that pit, and just pushed ahead, making room for the important ahead of the urgent.  I picked up the phone, called Jeremy to remind him we were coming, and headed out.

By the end of our visit, my pit had been transformed into a warm glow, that only intimate human connection and the presence of the Holy Spirit can create.  I was strangely drained and energized at the same time; my sense of personal significance had temporarily ticked up.  I felt this older gentleman had given more to me than I to him.  My partner and I debriefed before we headed home – which is to say we took some time to share how things went, how we were touched, how we might improve for next time, and who would record the fact of the visit for the next one of our team.

You see, Jeremy is not his real name; but our Community of Hope team knows his real name and can spot the record of our visit the next time one of us sees him.  Jeremy has advancing dementia; he may not be with us much longer; he has a caregiver; his basic needs of food, medications, shelter, safety are met; but still there is something more: something these 30 minute visits seem to help fill.  Sometimes we share communion, sometimes we share a prayer, sometimes we hold hands, always we make eye contact and exchange the peace of Christ.

I have been a part of this St. Davids church community since 2007 when we moved to Austin.

I have been engaged in a number of ministries and journey groups, but I have found the Community of Hope to be one of the most wonderful and practical experiences of my life, I think for several reasons: 

1.  As a child, I learned from my grandfathers that we all no matter our age have an innate need for love, personal meaning, and making a contribution to the larger context of our lives.  I watched one grandfather in particular reach out to people beyond his own family to live out the gospel of Christ and he seemed happier for it.  I am not sure why he did it, but I am glad he showed me that retirement, while we are able, can look more like transformation than lesser possibilities. 

2.  This church is large, and so many of our members can fall through the cracks when they cease coming to Sunday worship or small groups.  Community of Hope helps catch these folks.  It enables a virtual army of lay people to become extensions of the clergy for making pastoral visits.  It enables lay people like us to “do the work of the ministry”, a phrase straight out of Ephesians chapter 4. 

3.  COH is Benedictine in foundation, which means we all engage in the daily work of personal formation and prayer in community, and applying the Gospel scriptures in which Jesus said, “as you do so to one of the least of my brethren, you do so to Me.”  He taught us to regard one another as the face of Christ, and to live out the New Commandment to love one another. 

4.  Next, COH offers “boots on the ground” experiences of sitting with real people in real life difficulties.  Not pious theoretical.  We are taught that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”, so COH allow us to get out of our insular lives and touch one another with the hands and heart of Christ, and that connects us and changes us. 

5.  Finally, being in COH means also being part of a caring circle of like-minded people, who come together monthly for what we call our Circle of Care.  We laugh and are touched as we listen to one another share the joys and concerns that arise out of our visits, and we come away from these sessions with deeper friendships and camaraderie.

Bob Davis | COH Lay Chaplain | St. David's Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas