In a medical crisis that played out in my family two sides of two different churches are revealed. One was encouraging and responsive to a family in need. Another committed an epic fail by not responding to a prayer request from a former attender who sought help as his mother was deeply ill and dying in nearby St. Agnes Medical Center. This is about The Bridge Fresno which is a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America and Holy Spirit Catholic Church. Both churches are in Fresno, California.
“As a leader… I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a con-sensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the axiom: a leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4 NIV
My Mother was experiencing a serious medical crisis and on March 19, was taken to St. Agnes Emergency Room for the second time. I had already traveled to Fresno three times from Washington, D.C. to help my family. I saw my Mom in the hospital the first time she was admitted in December of 2016. This second time, over the next few days I was on pins and needles as the news varied. I monitored the news daily from Washington, D.C. One day it was good, and the following day was bad. With a pit in my stomach I decided to go back to California to help out. On March 24, 2017 I traveled back to Fresno for a fourth time to be with family and help my Mom. After all you only have one Mother and you pull out all the stops to help out.
Interaction with Holy Spirit Catholic Church in North Fresno
My family has been deeply involved in Holy Spirit for years. They have long appreciated the church and its leadership. My family also grew to like the current Monsignor Pat McCormick who has been long established in the Fresno area. For my Mom he became one of her favorite priests. When I came back to Fresno in my Mom’s medical crisis I attended Holy Spirit on Saturday March 25, 2017. Knowing how my Mom felt about Monsignor McCormick when I was leaving the church I explained to the Monsignor in a brief conversation the situation with my Mom’s illness in the hospital and asked if he could come by. On the spot at the door of the church he committed. I felt reassured that it would lift my Mom’s spirits in light of her illness and the challenges that took place.
Jeff Loven preaching at The Bridge Fresno
Interaction with The Bridge Fresno
On Sunday morning March 26, 2017 I attended The Bridge Fresno. I have a history with that church going back to my days of Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State. In addition I wanted to sit through a service and see how things have changed. I noticed that The Bridge Fresno has become more involved in social media and evangelism especially in expanding its efforts in Fresno, California and the San Joaquin Valley. I attended the 8:00 a.m. service and entered during the worship. I learned that Jeff Loven would be doing the preaching and that the new Senior Pastor Andrew Smith was doing different activities with other parts of the church. So I listened intently to the sermon and on the Sunday bulletin I left a prayer request. I was dealing with my Mom’s medical crisis in St. Agnes. So what I did was write a prayer request. To the best of my recollection it was something like the following:
” My name is David Bonner. I write a blog called The Wondering Eagle. I write about a lot of things including the Evangelical Free Church of America. I was deeply involved at one point in Fresno Evangelical Free. My Mother is having a medical crisis and I am afraid of losing her. Can you pray for her recovery?”
In the process I also left my contact information, mainly my email address as I thought I would hear from them. And with that as the service was ending I left the prayer request with the new attenders desk outside the main door. They were giving t-shirts to new attenders, and I went to the guy and explained that I had a serious prayer request. I gave it to him and he said “Thanks” and that was it. Like I said, I honestly thought when they read it that I would hear from The Bridge Fresno.
A Medical Crisis Plays out in Nearby St. Agnes Medical Center
Over the next week the medical crisis with my Mom deepened. Me and my family had late nights in the hospital. I wondered when Monsignor McCormick would be showing up over the course of the couple of days. But I also knew that my Mom was having some medical tests and was out of the room a few times. During the next week I lived in the hospital room helping my Mom. I was holding her hand, helping her with eating, and doing much more. I expressed my love to my Mother and played with her hair and kissed her on the forehead. Me and my family were exhausted and kept going forward. My Mom because of her illness was sometimes lucid. Other times she was dealing with delirium which meant that she didn’t recognize me which was hard. When she was difficult I waited in the cafeteria or one of the nearby waiting rooms.
On Saturday April 1, things with my Mom’s health took a turn for the worse. The previous night I was at the hospital until 12:30 in the morning before coming home exhausted. At 5:30 I was awoken by my sister who informed me that Mom was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of St. Agnes. Tired and still wearing the clothes from the night before we rushed to the hospital and spent the morning there. The doctor gave us grim news. It was hard to hear, and I walked away from the hospital stunned and in shock. For the first time in my life I was afraid I would lose my Mom. What was also hard is that every night I had gone to the chapel in St Agnes and prayed for another 5 to 10 years that I could spend with Mom. Now I didn’t know what was going to happen. Later that afternoon I went to Holy Spirit Church with my Dad and my sister to support them and be with them as family. As we were leaving Monsignor McCormick saw us and said that he came by to see my Mom but that she was out of her room. They told him she was getting medical testing and that he eventually left and wanted to reschedule a time to come by. I was deeply reassured to hear that response. I didn’t even have to raise the issue. It was very pastoral, on the spot and while it was unfortunate my Mom was out being I appreciated that he came by and reached out to my family.
After Holy Spirit we went back to St. Agnes and it was there that the unthinkable happened. At 6:24 p.m. in bed eleven on the third floor of the Hospital ICU I watched my Mom die before my eyes. I watched her blood pressure plunge to zero over about a 10 to 15 minute period. I watched her body temperature go down and eventually her heart stop beating. At 6: 24 my world was permanently shattered and as I sobbed over my Mom’s face and kissed her forehead I thanked Mom for being with me in my life and cried hysterically that I missed her. The ICU nurse expressed his condolences to the family.
In the days that followed in working with Whitehurst Funeral home we learned that Monsignor McCormick responded immediately to my family’s request of him doing a funeral of my Mom. Without knowing the details he responded and agreed to do it on the spot. It was during this time of working with Whitehurst that something else dawned upon me that I forgot. In all the time that I was helping my Mom in the hospital or more, The Bridge Fresno never responded to my prayer request about my Mom’s medical crisis and my fear of losing my Mom. There was no response, no reach out or more. That deeply disturbed me as I contemplated the situation.
Analysis, Plus Why Does The Bridge Fresno Exist?
This is a post I never thought I would do, but I believe in being honest and truthful. The behavior of Holy Spirit Church and its Monsignor was very responsive, loving and kind. To a family in pain, it meant a lot. In many ways it revealed a good shepherd looking out for his flock. To have a priest come by the hospital, try and help out, and reach out meant the world. To a family in deep pain it was comforting. Holy Spirit has done a remarkable job and to them I have to say well done. In contrast on the flip side I am deeply shocked that I would leave such a sensitive prayer request with The Bridge Fresno and get the response that I did. To do that, and not have anyone acknowledge that profoundly disturbs me. To The Bridge Fresno it is too late to do anything as my Mom is now dead. But with me during the medical crisis they could have reached out and said, “Dave what do you need? We’ll pray for your Mom and help you out in the process to the best of our ability.” It begs a question what kind of church receives such a sensitive prayer request and responds with silence? To The Bridge Fresno I have to say this…I think you need to go back to scripture and ponder the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. After all the Lord says that those mourning, the meek and those poor in spirit will be blessed. The Bridge Fresno is a failure as a church. Plus The Bridge Fresno committed an epic fail in this other way, in that I am wondering what else falls through the cracks of this Evangelical Free? And to be fair, I do want to say that I do not hold the EFCA denomination accountable, as I believe this was an error on the behalf of The Bridge Fresno alone. Part of the reason why I am writing this post is that I do not want this to happen again to another person in need. Today I am in the state of grieving the loss of my Mom, but I also want The Bridge Fresno to be able to respond better. If this is the modus operandi of The Bridge Fresno then I must ask….why do they exist? If this church cannot reach out to someone whose Mother is dying and pray for and with him, then that leaves me with a disturbing taste in my mouth. I have a lot of fond memories of this church but this one that occurred in my Mom’s medical crisis left me in knots. Like I said I do not want this to happen to another person. I am also not trying to write this in the context of an evangelical vs. a Catholic issue to score quick points. I am wanting to highlight the loving, pastoral response by one church and the epic failure of another. Sometime ago back in Washington, D.C. I wrote about an epic failure of Fairfax Community Church to a tragedy in the community. A gunman went on a rampage at the Washington Naval Yard in a horrific mass shooting. The Sunday after that happened at Fairfax Community Church the church acted like it was business as usual, and the evangelical circus must go on. No sermon about the problem of evil. No talk about where was God in the context of a massacre with a large loss of life. I wrote about that issue in “A Tale of Two Churches: Fairfax Community Church and the Problem of Evil.” This response by The Bridge Fresno highlights some of the issues in evangelicalism, which I tend to find myself writing about. The Bridge needs to go back and do better so that this does not happen with another person. I will close this with a Catholic hymn that was a personal favorite of my Mom which was played at her funeral. To those who read this from both The Bridge Fresno and Holy Spirit I do love you both.