Serving in a ministry before it had a name

Serving in a ministry before it had a name

“The Call to Stewardship” is a periodic series profiling individuals and families throughout the Diocese of Camden who have shown an inspiring response to the call to Christian stewardship highlighted in 1 Peter 4:10 “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Photo by James A. McBride
Father David A. Grover, pastor of Saint Clare of Assisi Parish, Gibbstown, describes Grace Martin as “a natural at giving to others.” She recently stepped down after 12 years as head of the parish’s Ministry of Compassion.

Grace Martin has been reaching out to others her whole life. It’s how she came to be involved in the church’s Ministry of Compassion at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish in Gibbstown. When asked how long she’s been part of the ministry she’s not sure of the answer, because her work really began before the ministry even had a name.

“It started a while ago,” she says, “when my friend Mary Love’s husband was ill. I began taking Communion to both of them.” He was homebound and his wife needed to be there to care of him.

Martin wanted to bring them both the Eucharist in her role as an extraordinary minister. And as a friend, she also felt that it was important to take the time to be present and to listen.

Martin’s life is deeply rooted in the life of Saint Clare in Gibbstown, the parish that was formed in 2010 as the result of the merger of three parishes: Saint Michael in Gibbstown, Saint John in Paulsboro, and Saint Joseph in Swedesboro. Church life has always been at the center of Martin’s life.

Father David Grover, pastor of Saint Clare, believes that her singular focus has made Martin the consummate steward, “She’s following the prompting of the Spirit to help people, and when it comes to ‘time, treasure and talent,’ she gives so much of her time, and that’s the most precious thing.”

“When I was a little girl,” Martin says, “I went with my grandmother to church very often. They sang in Italian and it moved me so much.” She also remembers the nuns in school with their clickers, signaling to the children when to kneel and when to enter the pews. “When they clicked their clickers — whew — we listened!”

The strong influences from family and her parish provided her with a profound sense of belonging, and ultimately of faith. It has been this deep sense of where she is rooted that has given her the drive to reach out to others in service.

Saint Clare’s has more than 100 funerals a year, and just recently Martin stepped down after 12 years as head of the parish’s Ministry of Compassion, which not only aids in funeral planning, but also offers comfort to the bereaved with follow-up visits and special prayer services, or even by sponsoring talks on how to survive the holidays after the loss of a loved one.

When someone dies, Martin and her ministry companion, Eileen Ward, typically meet with members of the family and help them plan for their loved one’s funeral. Martin believes that funerals are most meaningful when the family is content with the choices for the day. She tries to listen carefully to the family’s wishes for Scripture selections and hymns, and to get a good sense of what made the deceased unique. “It’s important to let Father know that, and he appreciates that kind of help” in preparing the funeral.

She offers some thoughts on what makes a happy death: “It’s the love you have around you. … It’s love, it’s God, it’s Jesus.”

Martin’s work in helping the bereaved has often dovetailed with her visits as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. The one-on-one visits are the most important part of her work, whether she is visiting someone who has lost a loved one or someone who is sick or homebound. “When I visit people,” she says, “I’m always taking Jesus to them, and that’s the best thing.” She describes how she reads through the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday Mass and then offers a prayer and Communion. And then she takes time to listen. “Sometimes, they will tell me the same story that I’ve heard a hundred times before and that’s OK, because that’s what they need to do.”

As a friend, she describes how important it is to take the time to be present and to listen. “I live to do it, to show my love for people.”

Father Grover notes that Martin’s involvement in the parish spans multiple ministries, including her involvement in Scripture study. “She pursues her knowledge of the Scriptures and uses it to help people.”

So even as she steps down as chair of the Ministry of Compassion, Martin is still available to help many of her fellow parishioners. There’s the World War II veteran who has shrapnel that can’t be removed in one of his arms. He’s lived with that for all of these years, although Martin has never heard him complain. She takes Communion to both him and his wife. There’s the woman who spent years as a civil servant. Her body is still strong, but her spirit is worn and she confides her troubles to Martin. And there is a woman who has lost all of her hearing. Martin communicates with her by writing messages, and on visiting days, she makes sure to visit her last and sometimes spends extra time with her.

And at home, as well as at church, Martin finds the support she needs that allows her to give to others. Daughter Kathy lives nearby and brings her most of her meals, or sends twin grandchildren Bailey or Cole, high school seniors, to pick up “Mom-mom” and bring her over for dinner. And wherever she goes in Paulsboro or Gibbstown, Martin seems to have friends. Sitting in a booth with Martin at the Paulsboro Diner, it’s hard to miss how the young waiter sits on a stool to ask about her order and carefully counsels her on the day’s specials.

“I’m in here a lot,” Martin confesses with a smile. More than one booth holds friends who know Martin, not just from church, but from school. Nodding toward a woman who has just entered with her husband, she notes, “We went to school together at Paulsboro High. We graduated together in 1957.” And as a retired elementary school teacher who worked in the local public schools, it’s not unusual for Martin to run into a former student.

One could say her witness sends a quiet, yet powerful, message of how sharing the Gospel and being a good steward can be as simple as loving your neighbor wherever you are.

Father Grover says, “Martin is a natural at giving to others.” And what’s more, as he observes, “she has never been parochial” in her service to others,” but has always stepped up with a willingness to help regardless of where the call originated. “Men and women call her, and she goes.”

The mission of the Office of Stewardship is to help the disciples of Christ live out Christian charity in a sacrificial way that “we might understand the grace that comes from giving back from our blessings so that in all things God may be glorified.” For more information, contact Deacon Russell Davis at 856-583-6102.

Categories: Office of Stewardship

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