A Most Sacred Vocation

“How do you maintain such a positive attitude while doing this work”? I asked a caregiver as she gently brushed Linda’s hair.

She responded, “I’m doing what I am supposed to do and I love these people!” Her love and sense of calling are evident in the way she treats others with respect, dignity, and compassion. She goes to great lengths to preserve the dignity and modesty of those whom she undresses, bathes, and dresses.

She adds, “These are precious children of God, too!”

In a world that honors the politically, economically, academically, and religiously prominent, the humble caregivers who give their lives in ministry with the vulnerable exemplify an alternative model of greatness and power. They embody true servant ministry and sacred vocation.

These caregivers have become my heroes, my models for ministry! Since God has chosen the most vulnerable, pushed aside, and powerless as incarnations of divine presence and mission, those who care for “the least of these” are participating in the most sacred of vocations. They are literally the “last who become first” and “the greatest” in God’s new community.

One of the most egregious injustices in our society is our failure to properly affirm, honor, and compensate those who serve among the most vulnerable: the children, the frail, the mentally ill, the cognitively impaired, the imprisoned, the immigrants, the poor, and homeless.

Many of these servant ministers—childcare workers, teachers, nurses, social workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers—live in or near poverty themselves.  Many work long hours for minimal pay with limited or no benefits. Many are single mothers who work multiple jobs. They get limited vacations and little time off.

I’ve been privileged to serve in a variety of vocations within the church. My first job in the church was as a teenager when the little congregation hired me as janitor. My vocational journey in chronological order has included janitor, student, pastor, bishop, and seminary professor.

In 2009, I faced a new vocational direction. Linda was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, a disease of progressive cognitive impairment.

Believing that God calls within life’s contexts and circumstances, I felt that my priority calling would now be the care of Linda.

So, I relinquished my full-time faculty position at Duke and we proceeded to move near our daughters who would share in their mother’s care. She would need lots of emotional support and attentiveness. The years ahead would consist of persistent losses, receding memories, declining capacities, and growing dependency.

Though the journey is filled with grief and multiple challenges, my vocation as caregiver continues to be filled with abundant joy, profound experiences of divine grace, and opportunities for growth in discipleship and mission. I have never felt more engaged in a sacred vocation.

One of the remarkable gifts has been the opportunity to learn anew the meaning of servant ministry. My image of servanthood and sacred vocation has sharpened. The towel and basin are prominent Christian symbols, reminding us of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet.    towel_basin

Yet, there is an even more poignant expression of servanthood: that of a caregiver tenderly washing more than the feet, but the whole body of a vulnerable, frail person, even as that person resists mightily.

May we learn from these who embody true servant ministry by participating in God’s presence among the vulnerable and the marginalized. Let us honor them and treat them with gratitude, compassion, and justice!

7 thoughts on “A Most Sacred Vocation

  1. Thank you for highlighting the good and gracious works of caregivers in all care settings. Truly they need all our support. They are entrusted with people in their most vulnerable state, needing the most compassion, in often very trying circumstances. They are truly servants of mercy and grace.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So stately worded, and makes my role as a caregiving so special. Seeing those we love, respect and honor unable to enjoy their last years can be overwhelming! However we still have our special moments that carry us to the next day, and our special memories from years past. Bless you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ken, I shared your post with our Covenant Group this am. It felt like you were in the room with us. We send our love and prayers for you and Linda. Love, Charlene

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bishop Carter, I enjoyed your Sunday School class this morning & have enjoyed reading the articles on your blog this afternoon., especially the ones on dementia. As my mom fights this cruel disease daily, I am encouraged by your words of love languages & living in the present & honoring the caregivers. As my sisters & I juggle the daily task of keeping Mama safe, comfortable & happy in these circumstances, it is frustrating & sometimes overwhelming. We have a wonderful caregiver to fill in the gaps. Your encouragement is a true blessing! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Callie! Yes, dementia diseases are cruel and vicious in the toll taken on everyone affected. Yet there are moments of profound joy and connection. I know how frustrating and overwhelming it can be! Today was a difficult day for Linda and I felt helpless in calming her. My goals are to keep her safe, comfortable, and loved! I can’t always keep her comfortable, but we do keep her safe and surround her with love. Blessings to you and your sisters!


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