It was the late 1960’s. Twenty two year old King Duncan was a student pastor, serving two small churches in northern Maryland, USA.
One of his parishioners Mrs. Maude Stambaugh, the oldest living member of one of the churches. Frail and ill, Mrs Stambaugh spent her final years being cared for by her daughter in her daughter’s home, unable to leave her room except for trips to the hospital twice a month to receive the blood transfusions that kept her alive.
When he first went to see her King found the experience quite difficult. Mrs Stambaugh had Parkinson’s disease at an advanced state. Her hearing was poor, meaning he had to shout into her ear to be heard, and she was close to being blind.
“What do I do now?” he thought to himself as Mrs Stambaugh’s daughter excused herself from the room. Seminary had not prepared him for this. He sat beside the bed, intimidated and uncomfortable, before cupping his hands and shouting into Mrs Stambaugh’s ears “How are you doing today?”
Mrs. Stambaugh responded with a pleasant expression and mumbled something which he could not quite understand. King Duncan knew he had to do something for this woman, but he had no idea what. For 15 minutes he sat there in silence, til finally he opened the New Testament and began to read some verses aloud. Though he read loudly, he was not sure if Mrs Stambaugh heard. He finished with a prayer. But would he whisper it or shout it into her ear? He decided he would simply speak in a very loud voice. So King prayed and left the room, cupping his hands around her ear one last time before exiting the room. “Good to see you, Mrs. Stambaugh,” he shouted.
Of course, that was a lie. He had found the whole experiencing discouraging, disheartening and very awkward. He would prefer to do anything than return. But return he did, for he was Mrs Stambaugh’s pastor. Every month or so King visited Mrs Stambaugh, each time shouting in her ear to greet her, then sitting in tortured silence for 15 minutes, before reading from the bible, then praying.
Eighteen months after his first visit, Mrs. Stambaugh died. After the funeral King was walking toward his car when Mrs Stambaugh’s daughter came hurrying up to him. “Pastor Duncan, I have something for you. This was the last thing Mother wrote before she died,” her daughter said with warmth. “We thought you would want to see it.” She handed him a note. It took some time to decipher the handwriting. This is what Mrs. Stambaugh had written, “Please tell my young pastor how much his visits meant to me.”
King Duncan learned what we all must, that our presence is one of the greatest gifts we can offer. Though we may feel awkward, useless and discouraged, our presence to another human being in their hours of darkness is a precious gift.
Source: Reported by King Duncan, Seven Worlds Newsletter, 2002