[Leonard Pitts, one of my favorite syndicated columnists, wrote recently of his aunt, and of her dementia. His insights and loving remembrances of her gifts, prompted this memory.]
One of my privileges in ministry in Vermont was to lead the weekly Thursday afternoon service at the nursing home.
Just about every preacher will admit to keeping copies of the most common liturgical helps at hand, “just in case.” For example, though I led it every single Sunday and said it almost every single day, a copy of the Lord’s Prayer was taped to the pulpits from which I preached. And when I did those nursing home services, especially the “memorial” services for residents whose deaths we marked with stories and prayers, I kept a book mark in my Bible to mark the 23rd Psalm.  Except for the Thursday I didn’t.
When the time came to say together that Psalm that even little kids memorized early on in Sunday School, I quickly flipped to the Psalms there in the middle of my Bible and opened the page to lead the familiar words. Before starting, I glanced down to the 123rd Psalm. I panicked. In that moment, with all those wonderful souls, so trusting, some confused, many mourning, a few sleeping… I didn’t want to embarrass myself by thumbing through the Book for its most familiar words. But, I swear, in that moment, I couldn’t even remember how the thing started.
In the momentary pause, however, between my announcing that we would recite it together and finding that I was lost, Laura Drown in the front row quietly said to no one in particular, but no doubt to her Lord now that I think of it, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
I took her cue, and repeated the words for all to hear. And everyone in the room prayed, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
And then Laura said, again so quietly, “…I shall not want.” And then I said it with my preacher voice. And everyone followed. So, Laura lined out the Psalm for us. The same Laura who, in her early 80s, had asked me before the service if her mother would be picking her up after school that day.
When the service had ended, I thanked her for helping me lead the 23rd Psalm. She smiled and reminded me that her mother would be coming for her soon, and she had to get ready to go.
Thank you, Mr. Pitts, for sharing the story of your Aunt. In doing so, you reminded me that eventually, we’ll all need a shepherd.
Jeff Kellam