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Rita Beers is 85 years old, yet every weekday morning, she’s in her car, on her way to St. George’s church in Moncton by 7 o’clock.

There is no sleeping in for this volunteer, because she is needed. Her job is to oversee the shower ministry at the church, where those without such facilities are welcome. It’s a simple but necessary service:  hot water, soap, shampoo and a clean towel.

Rita has been in her role for more than two years.

“Father Chris [Van Buskirk]  came to see me at home and he asked me, ‘would you like to volunteer?’” she said. “I said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’”

So each morning, she folds clean towels and takes names. 

“I call out their name, give them a towel and face cloth,” she said, adding there is a strict, 20-minute time limit. 

She’s so used to enforcing the time limit that she once shouted to her son, in the shower at home, that he had five minutes left! 

The time limit is necessary so that the morning runs smoothly and everyone gets their shower without having to wait too long. This all takes place during the daily breakfast St. George’s offers.

Money from the diocesan synod helped the parish buy an on-demand tankless hot water heater, without which they could not offer this ministry. 

Sometimes her job is challenging, because addiction is all around her.

“It was upsetting at first,” she said. “I’d never been involved with people on drugs.”

Even after witnessing an overdose, she’s learned to cope, and has a good friend in Justin Melanson, the outreach co-ordinator for St. George’s. He looks out for all those accessing programs, and keeps an eye on Rita. They work as a team to do what needs to be done.

Next to Rita’s chair is a second one, which invites visitors to sit and chat. That’s where Rita makes friends of the people who frequent St. George’s for some of their basic needs.

“You get to know them, and when you don’t see them for awhile, you get concerned. Are they OK?”

Sometimes the shower ministry is just a sideline to even greater tasks. Rita recounted a young man named Martin who came for breakfast each day. Always willing to help clean up after the daily breakfast, he told Rita he was on EI benefits, but was eagerly looking for a job. His EI was not allowing him to pay rent and eat. 

“He was walking miles to interviews and would come back disappointed,” she said.

One day, as he left for yet another interview, Rita was suddenly hit with the realization that Martin’s appearance was making a poor first impression. 

She and Justin jumped into action. Justin found him some dress clothes, bought him a new pair of shoes and arranged for a haircut. Rita, using her experience working at NBCC, set up a mock interview so Martin could practice.

“The next morning he went to an interview,” she said. “He came back the next day and gave me a thumbs up. He’s been working for two weeks. He’s very happy. I really love that story. It made me feel so good.”

Even though Rita has been attending St. George’s for a long time, and was married there, she never knew about some of these behind-the-scenes ministries.

“I had no idea, but my eyes have been opened,” she said.

And now that they’re opened, she cannot look away.

“Some people think I’m silly because I’m here,” she said. “But I just can’t sit at home. It’s not that hard. I can do it. And it gives me a chance to help people.”

For Canon Chris, Rita is the perfect person to do the job.

“I hear her calling out names, ‘do you want a shower?’” he said. “It’s a motherly thing. She’s really made for the role.

“She’s such a good fit, thanks be to God.”

PHOTO CAPTIONS:
1. Rita Beers at her towel cupboard at St. George's Moncton.

2. Justin Melanson, outreach co-ordinator at St. George's. He works with Rita, and looks out for her and everyone using the outreach programs at the church.
McKnight photos

7 Comments


Cindy Derksen about 1 month ago

a beautiful story- a beautiful ministry!!!


JOAN Tremblay about 1 month ago

What a wonderful ministry and outreach!


Jim Taylor about 1 month ago

What a great story. What an inspiration Rita and Justin are for all of us!!!!


Lisa about 1 month ago

This is a beautiful story! I had the opportunity to see what Rita, Justin and the other volunteers do to try and help the less fortunate. It was an eye opener and it was heartwarming.


AHABWE VIVIAN 29 days ago

May God bless the work of your hands.


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