By Norm Bower
For The Catholic Messenger
Bringing Communion to people in the hospital makes me feel valued, respected and helpful. This ministry can be the best part of your day, trust me. I’ve been helping at Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park in Davenport for four years now, a couple of days a month, and it has proven to be one of the most enriching activities in my life.
It all began 20 years ago when my wife and I became eucharistic ministers at St. Anthony Parish in downtown Davenport. This ministry has strengthened our sense of belonging and service. We offer the body and blood of Christ once or twice a month on Sundays.
Four years ago a friend contacted us and asked if we would consider being eucharistic ministers at Genesis West. We took part in the volunteer training sessions offered by Genesis Health. We had background checks and learned about the Spiritual Care office, the chapel and the network of other volunteers.
It was a bit intimidating to start, meeting so many people and learning our way around the many hospital wards. We tried not to interfere with the primary function of every department — to help with healing. We also saw how important it was for the Catholic patients to pray, to visit and to receive the Eucharist on a regular basis. We quickly felt like part of the health care team with a special mission that would affect the mental and spiritual well-being of each person we visited.
An important skill for a eucharistic minister in this setting is the ability to read the situation quickly and unobtrusively. If the patient has a few visitors and is joking and smiling, then it’s pretty clear that the prognosis is good, the patient has support and things might be winding down. I have also entered rooms where the atmosphere felt a lot more serious, sometimes indicated by the equipment present. One woman I visited told me flat out that she had six months to live and was eager to receive Communion. She said, “I will see my mother and other family members, so I am not scared at all.” The more she described her own peace of mind, the more awed I became. This was the most inspiring moment for me in this role. It felt like a gift from God and a life lesson for me.
I wear the standard Genesis volunteer grey shirt on each visit. It identifies me to staff and patients and that’s valuable for everyone. One day, however, I wore an open cardigan sweater that had the ND monogram from my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. One man I visited had a big chuckle when he saw my sweater. He was happy to receive the Eucharist but he really didn’t like ND and spent a few minutes telling me all the reasons why. I’m sure he felt better when our visit was over. If it helped his healing to talk that way, so be it.
A friend who is an experienced eucharistic minister shared a story with me. After offering Communion to a man visiting with his parish priest, my friend went to the next assigned room down the hall. That patient was reluctant to receive Communion and said, “I just really need to talk with a priest.” My friend, said, “OK, wait just a minute.” He asked the priest in the first room if he could spend a few minutes with the patient in the other room. The priest agreed. It surely demonstrated yet again how God works in mysterious ways.
One of my favorite stories as a eucharistic minister involves the first day I officially served as a hospital volunteer, out on my own. I had a list of about 10 Catholics to visit.
One woman was resting in her hospital bed and seemed quite happy to have a visitor. I washed my hands and complimented her on her pretty robe. We made small talk and then I said, “Ma’am, would you like to receive holy Communion today?” She replied, “Honey, I can’t hear you … and I’m Methodist.” We both had a good laugh. It still makes me laugh to think of that scenario and the joy I receive in serving as a eucharistic minister, reaching out to others.
(Norm Bowers is a member of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport.)