I went to the concert at Richmond’s First Baptist Church last night expecting to hear some glorious music, and for the first twenty minutes I did, but then I saw our ushers running for a gurney and I can’t remember hearing much after that.
Not much music, anyway.
I got up from my pew in the balcony and went downstairs where I found one of our members propped up on that same gurney, embarrassed by the condition he was in, having passed out on the pew and vomited in the Narthex. He was surrounded by five or six of our First Responders who were reassuring him and making him comfortable while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. I provided pastoral care while two of our staff ministers grabbed some paper towels to clean up the mess on the floor. He didn’t want to go to the hospital. He assured us that he was fine, and that it hadn’t been his heart. But one of our members, a doctor, insisted. He had seen a few cardiac events in his life and was pretty sure this was one of them. So, when the ambulance got there our patient went, reluctantly, and I went back upstairs to the balcony.
I got to hear another ten minutes’ of Dan Forrest’s “LUX: The Dawn from on High,” performed beautifully by our sanctuary choir and chamber orchestra, before the next cardiac event, this time only twenty feet away from where I was sitting. Somebody’s elderly mother had begun to feel dizzy and faint, and as they tried to help her out of the sanctuary she had to stop and sit down. “Is she OK?” I motioned. Her son-in-law shook his head. I got up and went over to where they were sitting and it became obvious that she needed help. Someone suggested I call 911 and I did as I made my way back down to the Narthex to round up our First Responders.
One of those, Matthew, had done such a beautiful job with our previous patient that I singled him out and asked if he would come and have a look at this lady in the balcony. He did, and as I stayed on the phone with the 911 operator I watched the way he cared for her, tenderly, as if he were caring for his own mother. I could see the relief on her face. And after the choir had finished and the audience had applauded I heard him say to her, “Your blood pressure is really high. We need to take you to the hospital and get you checked out. If you were my mother I wouldn’t let you go home until we had done that.” And she didn’t like that idea, but she said yes. Maybe just because he had taken such good care of her.
I talked to Wally Hudgins afterward, our Head Usher, and he was visibly shaken by the events of the evening. He said, “I thought we had lost one of those. I’ve been doing this 58 years and never seen it quite that bad.” But in the thick of it Wally had been there, calling the shots, directing traffic, and making sure that those in need got what they needed. That’s the definition of leadership, isn’t it? The ability to keep your head when everybody around you is losing theirs?
It’s Monday morning now, and as far as I know both our patients are doing well, but last night I gained a new appreciation for the pastors, paramedics, ushers, ambulance drivers, 911 operators, doctors, nurses, and other trained medical personnel who leapt into action, doing their work quietly and skillfully as the choir and chamber orchestra provided beautiful background music for the lifesaving drama going on in the Narthex and in the balcony.
So, I’m going to stand up in a minute and clap long and loud for the musicians who labored for months to make last night’s concert such a success, and particularly Phil Mitchell, our Minister of Christian Worship, who dreamed it up in the first place and brought it all together. But then I’m going to clap for all those people who have spent a lifetime preparing for an emergency like last night’s, so that when the time came they would be ready.
And I’m grateful.