When I first met with Bishop Sean Rowe in January 2014 after moving back to Erie from Oklahoma, he asked if I would be interested in the position of Chaplain at Brevillier Village. In all sincerity I told him I was called to prison ministry and that’s where I intended to serve. As usual ‘man plans, God laughs’. While waiting to find an entry into local prison ministry I approached Joyce Gieza, a Brevillier Village volunteer from St. Mary’s in Lawrence Park, and asked if she thought some prayer shawls I’d crocheted could be used at Brevillier. She took them to Marti Colliss, Director of Recreation, who was delighted to receive them and to offer me some donated yarn for more shawls and lap robes. When we picked up the yarn, Joyce took me to Marti’s office in Barnabas Court through the halls of Barnabas North. I was totally unprepared for the recognition of the names on residents’ doors and the strong emotional response they created. First was my next-door neighbor when I was growing up in Lawrence Park during the 50’s and 60’s, then a man whose sons went to school with me, a woman whose husband worked with my dad and me at GE and a couple I’d gone to church with in the 60’s. I had such a strong reaction that for days the names and memories were overwhelming. During Lent, Bishop Sean came to St. Mary’s for Stations of the Cross and I asked him if he’d found a chaplain for Brevillier. If not, I said I’d like to volunteer to see if I would be a good fit for the community. I met with the Brevillier staff and started as a volunteer chaplain in April and became chaplain in May 2014.
I began my journey with a new ministry that in many ways was similar to my previous ministry. The one parallel that has had the most impact on me is that in prison ministry when I no longer saw a resident, I knew they had been released and had gone home. The same is true at Brevillier Village – when I see a resident no more, they have been released from this earthly place and gone to an eternal home.
It took me a while to adjust to most folks sleeping through at least some part of the service, but it is the awakening moments that are so beautiful. When we invoke the Trinity and hands move in the familiar sign of the cross, when the Lord’s Prayer begins and heads lift and voices raise, when long loved hymns are played and the words are remembered. And most beautiful of all is when I offer communion and eyes look directly into mine and the words ‘amen’ and frequently ‘thank you’ are said. That connection only comes through the love of God, the experience of the Holy Spirit and presence of Christ, our Savior. To share the gift of sacrament that deeply, that personally is beyond description and a great blessing.
As St. Francis said, “Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” It is an experience everyone who works or volunteers at Brevillier understands and I am most blessed that God has placed me here.
The Rev. Mary Lord, Deacon St. Mary’s, Lawrence Park and Chaplain at Brevillier Village