St. Peter's ministers at County Home

Published 9:15 am Monday, March 31, 2003

The question of exactly when it all began may never be answered.
But there's no question about its importance -- both to the participants and to the officiants.
Once a month, one of the clergymen from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Washington and lay minister Bill Cheshire don their vestments and conduct the Service of Holy Eucharist, Rite One, at the Beaufort County Home -- not just for the Episcopanians among the residents but for anyone from any denomination who wants to participate.
The Rev. William Bradbury, rector of St. Peter's, has been in Washington 18 years, he notes, and "it was going strong when I got here."
Frances Hulbert, whose late husband, Irwin, was one of Bradbury's predecessors at the historic Washington church, thinks he may have originated the communion services. "Irwin went out there an awful lot," she said of his visits at the County Home, "and he took communion to everybody who wanted it."
St. Peter's is the only church to provide communion at the County Home, and the County Home is the only one of the area nursing/rest homes to which the group from St. Peter's takes communion.
Now, he says, a wide variety of denominations are represented in the persons who make up the small congregation for the service -- from as few as six on March 24 to as many as 15.
Bradbury and the Rev. Don Wiesner, priest associate at St. Peter's, alternate in handling the clergy's part of the service. However, Wiesner says "the real force behind that (ministry) is Bill Cheshire."
When Cheshire and his wife, Lucy, moved to Washington seven years ago, he simply continued a ministry to the elderly that he had been practicing for many years.
He added, "One of the really positive things that is occurring in the Episcopal Church is the emphasis on lay ministry. … It is a very important aspect of any Christian church."
Wiesner says Cheshire "is just very, very loving and caring in his relationship" with the residents at the County Home. He goes room-to-room, gathering the flock for communion. And Wiesner finds it rewarding "to see how much those who have been members of the church for many years appreciate having the service."
Once everyone is gathered in a room made available by the staff, and the service begins, Cheshire takes care to help the participants keep their place in the booklets the church provides with copies of the Rite One service. "Some are very much aware" of what is going on, Wiesner says, while others, with various health problems, may have more difficulty.
Wiesner also tailors each homily he delivers there, "to make it relevant to life as one experiences it in a nursing home."
On March 24, with war on everyone's mind, Wiesner said, "we were talking about how death does not have to be feared … whether you are on the front line … or in a nursing home."
He added, "They were able to respond to that, I believe."
After the service, priest and lay person take communion to other members of St. Peter's who are bed-bound, so those people can participate, too,.
Bradbury, Wiesner and Cheshire all agree that the County Home is a special place, which makes them look forward all the more to their visits. "It is a warm, caring place," Wiesner says. "I always have a good feeling at the County Home."
The residents themselves get no small credit for that special atmosphere.
In serving communion at the County Home, Bradbury says, he finds "a real depth of faith" in people who have lost so much in their lives. "You really do have a sense you're with some real saints."
Staff member Heather Luna contributed to this article.