"Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do." John 14:12, NRSVUE
Rev. Brenda Wicks leans on this verse as she steps into leading care ministry for rural congregations. She became a lay speaker in 2009, serving the United Methodist Church in Carpenter, South Dakota. She was also a member of the congregation.
"I began to have this desire to serve in both word and sacrament," said Wicks. "I've always had a deep love for the sacraments. In response to this call on my heart, I became a licensed local pastor."
While serving as a local pastor, she also worked as the director of the Beadle County Farm Service Agency.
"As a bi-vocational pastor, I often did not have the time to administer the level of pastoral care that I felt called to do," said Pastor Brenda. "While I enjoyed working for the area farmers and ranchers, I was looking forward to my retirement from the Farm Service Agency and having more time to devote to pastoral care ministry."
Care ministry journey
As retirement drew closer, she began planning to hold weekly devotion or a Bible study at the assisted living center where her mother lived.
"For me, it was a win-win. I could visit my mom and simultaneously provide the pastoral care that my heart longed for," said Wicks.
The last week before her retirement, Wick's mother suffered a stroke, and at age 97, God took her to her eternal home.
"My sister and I had the privilege of being the bridge that ushered mom into heaven. It was a sacred and holy moment, filled with sadness, peace, and joy," she said.
After her mother's passing, Pastor Brenda immersed herself in serving as the pastor at Carpenter UMC. She attended a gathering at Abbey of the Hills Retreat Center. On Sunday morning, two groups of women—Brenda's Emmaus reunion group and a group of female veterans, gathered for worship led by Pastor Brenda.
"It was a spirit-filled worship," said Pastor Brenda." I never felt so in my element as I did that morning leading worship. It was an amazing morning. God had brought these two groups of women together in a profound and amazing way."
That same year, her mother-in-law, Kathryn, fell and suffered compression fractures in her spine. She was admitted to a care facility for rehabilitation. After working hard to meet all her goals, Kathryn moved into an assisted living center.
"Kathyrn was a woman of great faith. I had the privilege of walking beside her as her daughter-in-law and pastor," said Pastor Brenda.
It was a period of transition and loss. Kathyrn was transitioning from her home of 60 years to the assisted living center. She lost much of her independence.
"I offered her prayers of encouragement and hope," said Wicks. As best I could, I helped Kathyrn to see that God still had a purpose for her life."
When Kathryn moved into the assisted living center, Pastor Brenda asked the administrator if she could provide weekly devotions for the residents.
"I was given the okay. I found myself meeting a need that hadn't been provided since the onset of Covid," said Pastor Brenda. "I soon realized that this disconnect was not just in the assisted living center that I was attending to but in many long-term care facilities. I felt as though God was saying. This is where I meant for you to be."
Model for rural care ministry
Pastor Brenda met with her district superintendent, Rev. Rebecca Trefz, who asked Wicks what she enjoyed most in ministry.
"I told her that providing pastoral care brought great joy in my life," said Pastor Brenda. "I shared these events that had happened over the past year. I relayed my observation of a need for pastoral care for the elderly, the homebound, those who have mental illness, refugees, and new people moving into the community."
The Holy Spirit was planting the vision for developing a care ministry model for small, rural communities. Wicks continues to hold weekly devotions at the assisted living center.
"They have become my friends. I look so forward every week to meeting with them, bringing them treats, having coffee, and sharing God's word of hope and encouragement," said Pastor Brenda.
Pastor Brenda Wicks is working with the Dakota Connections Initiative to develop a model for care ministry in rural settings. She is recruiting and training a team of people, lay and clergy, for visitation, prayer, and connection. The group will work across several communities.
"I think of all these opportunities to bring God's love, peace, and grace in and outside our church communities. I am reminded of Jesus sending the 12 disciples in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. He said to them, 'The harvest is great, but the workers are few.' Pray to the Lord who oversees the harvest. Ask him to send more workers into the field," said Pastor Brenda.
She recently introduced people to care ministry by holding a care ministry training with participants at Riverview United Methodist Church in Huron, South Dakota, and Legacy United Methodist Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The training was a springboard from the work of Rev. Karen Lampe, the executive pastor of Congregational Care at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. The Caring Congregation model involves the laity working with pastors to provide care and support in their church and communities.
If you would like to become involved or seek further training in care ministry, contact Rev. Brenda Wicks.