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The Visit

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week doing pastoral visiting in hospitals and care homes. I freely admit it’s not the thing I do best, but it’s a part of my job/vocation/ministry, so out I go. I’m aware that these are the folks who cannot make it to church (as opposed to the ones who choose not to come – for various reasons), and so I know that sometimes my presence is the only time they see a cleric. They see the church in other visitors, but for some folks there’s something really special about the visitor who’s wearing a collar.

I have had some great conversations this week. Some folks I visited chatted about funeral plans, others wanted to know about the latest gossip around town. I had one gentleman interrupt the care home bible study this morning to ask if the Gospel was a good police story (I told him it was a good belief story), and had a women query me about how to respond to her granddaughter’s latest rebellion of wanting a tattoo (I assured her that not everyone with tattoos is bad – she wasn’t convinced until I showed her some of mine!).

Some of the visits were long, some were short. Some folks had their families there, others were alone. Sometimes we shared communion, sometimes we shared jokes, every time we prayed. Part of the reality of these visits is that I never know what I will get when I do them – I helped explain someone’s medical test results in one visit, and the next visit just held a lady’s hand as she faded in and out of consciousness. I smiled and listened to one man tell me the same story multiple times, and then (tried to!) help another man with his advanced level crossword puzzle. Making visits means being prepared for anything. And it can be mentally and emotionally tiring.

But as tiring as it may be, it is spiritually uplifting. It is tremendously rewarding to share the communion with someone who has been a life-long believer but whose body now prevents them from coming out. It is delightful to hear the stories of how the church groups used to exercise their ministry. It is humbling to be invited into some peoples’ lives at their most vulnerable, and to journey with them through difficult decisions. It is inspiring to see folks of limited engagement light up when a familiar hymn is bring sung or prayer being said. It’s comforting to just be a prayerful presence with those who are struggling to find peace. Sometimes folks remember the visits with astonishing clarity, sometimes I’m forgotten before I’m even out the door.

It’s not always easy, when I know that there is paperwork to fill out and phone calls to make and sermons to write. It’s not always the most fun part of my ministry. But it is always worth it – not just for the folks that I see, but because I become changed by the experience. I learn a little bit more patience, I get invited a little bit deeper into peoples’ lives, I get to hear some truly amazing stories of phenomenal people.  I see the ministry or the care givers and lay visitors, I get to share the communion with a wider scope of the church, I exchange lots of smiles and hugs. I am changed for the better by the experience of visiting as friendships deepen and Christian love and community grows; and I often wonder why I sometimes resist this. I can only hope that when my time comes to be cared for that someone will be coming in to spend even a few minutes with me.

How important is visiting in your community? Do you take part?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee. http://everydaychristianityblog.blogspot.ca
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9 Responses to The Visit

  1. Fr. Bengry

    Love this reflection. Thank-you. I’m on the way out the door to visit Annabelle, a wonderful elderly woman who can’t come to Church anymore. I will say the Mass and we will visit and I’ll thank God that He’s given me the opportunity to serve such a wonderful child of God.

     

  2. Dawn Leger

    I’m going to jump in and stir a pot. Visiting is a mixed bag for me.

    I love the kind of visiting you describe. It really is a privilege of a priest to be invited into people’s lives in the most intimate of moments. Some of my favourite memories are visiting in peoples’ homes.

    Visiting can also become a focus of discontent. I’ve been in churches where no matter how many homes a priest visits, it is never enough. There is a mistaken idea that the more a priest visits the more the church will grow. That has never been shown to be the case. I think congregations and clergy need to have a very clear, agreed upon understanding of what visiting is for and how much clergy time is to be dedicated to it. I am happy to visit someone who is truly shut in (not coming to church but able to take a bus or cab to the mall everyday does NOT count), someone in distress, or someone who genuinely wants what humble offering I have.

    I find, with some, there is an assumption that everyone in the church is just waiting by the door waiting for me to show up. That simply is not the case.

    I am excited to now serve a parish with a very active pastoral visiting team. These folks are superstars! What makes their ministry work is the relationships they have built with people in this parish long before I arrived and they will continue to build after I go. They can offer more listening ears, helping hands and open hearts than I ever could on my own.

    All that said, I love to spend an afternoon on a deck or over a cup of tea visiting over serious spiritual matters or simply passing the time. Give me a call. I’d love to come over and visit. If your spouse is being rushed to hospital at 3 am, I’ll pull on my boots. But the core of visiting is building relationship, and that is always a 2 way street.

  3. Dawn Leger

    I’m going to jump in and stir a pot. Visiting is a mixed bag for me.

    I love the kind of visiting you describe. It really is a privilege of a priest to be invited into people’s lives in the most intimate of moments. Some of my favourite memories are visiting in peoples’ homes.

    Visiting can also become a focus of discontent. I’ve been in churches where no matter how many homes a priest visits, it is never enough. There is a mistaken idea that the more a priest visits the more the church will grow. That has never been shown to be the case. I think congregations and clergy need to have a very clear, agreed upon understanding of what visiting is for and how much clergy time is to be dedicated to it. I am happy to visit someone who is truly shut in (not coming to church but able to take a bus or cab to the mall everyday does NOT count), someone in distress, or someone who genuinely wants what humble offering I have.

    I find, with some, there is an assumption that everyone in the church is just waiting by the door waiting for me to show up. That simply is not the case.

    I am excited to now serve a parish with a very active pastoral visiting team. These folks are superstars! What makes their ministry work is the relationships they have built with people in this parish long before I arrived and they will continue to build after I go. They can offer more listening ears, helping hands and open hearts than I ever could on my own.

    All that said, I love to spend an afternoon on a deck or over a cup of tea visiting over serious spiritual matters or simply passing the time. Give me a call. I’d love to come over and visit. If your spouse is being rushed to hospital at 3 am, I’ll pull on my boots. But the core of visiting is building relationship, and that is always a 2 way street.

  4. This is another one of those posts where I feel like everyone is correct. Being together is who we are, and it’s what we do. When people can’t be with us, we go to them. It’s wonderful and incarnational… and can be both energizing and draining at the same time.

    At the same time, I hear what Dawn is saying. I’ve known some who refused to gather with the community due to unresolved conflict, but expected communion to be delivered to them personally. I have known some who have turned away members of the pastoral care team because they weren’t wearing a collar. And yes, I’ve had many a request from busy people who are simple too busy to be active members of a worshiping community. But when it works, it works. When all members,lay and ordained, are able to see compassion as a core element of our identity, we become the body we aspire to be.

    Given that what we’re talking about here is an act of worship, I wonder how human shortcomings fit into the picture in light of Kyle’s recent post? Today, I find it helpful to reflect on this post alongside this one.

  5. Kyle Norman

    LaruaMarie, thanks for the honesty of this post.  I am one like you where visiting is not my strong suit.  I tell people often that I am more comfortable in a classroom or pulpit than a hospital room.  But, like you, I have been blessed by certain visits that seem to make me aware of the bigger picture of my ministry beyond what I sometimes perceive it to be.  There are times where the visit is more about me than about them.  And there are times where, for whatever reason, God has used me to provide words and actions of comfort, healing, and restoration.

    In the end I am always reminded that ministry can be messy and chaotic.  But thanks be to God who can bring form out of chaos, and peace out of mess.

  6. Thanks for the conversation so far! Lots of views to be shared.

    I’m blessed to serve communities where the laity do a lot of visiting – it’s just what happens in the country. So for my remarks here I’ll focus on my experience as the only Anglican priest within 100 miles.

    I think any visitor (clergy, lay, whomever) has both challenge and success stories. My general practice is to visit with people at the care homes when I am there for our regularly scheduled bible study or worship times; sometimes with communion and sometimes not. When I hear someone is in hospital, I make sure to get there in a timely manner. Additional communion visits happen at Christmas and Easter, or when I receive a request.

    The folks who are able to attend church but make the choice not to are visited as time permits – but I have to admit they’re not as high a priority for me as they are making the choice to be outside of the worshiping community. It’s a theological struggle for me to share communion with people who are open about their refusal to share the peace with their neighbour – so often that leads to discussions on what it really means to forgive others as we are forgiven, to be part of the body of Christ, etc. (That being said, I’ve never refused the sacraments to anyone genuinely seeking Christ in their hearts and lives. Though I note that the folks who refuse to attend church are less likely to call for a visit when they know I’ll gently broach the subject of their absence in worship.)

    Realistically, I could visit 24/7/365 and there will always be someone who feels that I’ve not visited enough. But the visiting I do is appreciated, and a sign of the church’s commitment to living it’s sacramental ministry beyond our 4 walls.

     

  7. Laura Marie – thanks for a very interesting message on an important topic in congregational life.  Ministers/pastors can be visting 24 hours a day for 7 days a week and they still wouldn’t reach everyone who would like a visit, so I am very aware of the demands and expectations on clergy in this area, and I think congregational members have to exercise some discretion in their approach to requesting visits from pastoral staff, and also congregations need to have an active lay visiting ministry as well.  Having said that, as someone who had to spend some significant time in hospital some years ago with a serious illness, I can attest to how meaningful it is to receive a pastoral visit when you are ill or in a medical crisis.  Hearing the word of God from your own minister and sharing communion in a hospital room is a tremendously comforting experience during a time of great trial and uncertainty.

  8. Kyle Norman

    Sure if there are sickness, hospital stays and crisese,  the whole issue of visiting becomes a fairly simple one.  But there is another side of visiting isn’t there.  I don’t know if any one would struggle with these.  It may be instense, we may be at a loss to say, but the path forward is clear. 

    But there is another type of visiting isn’t there.   There is the day-to-day-Priest-coming-for-tea kind of visits.  These are what  I struggle with, and honestly, I have to admit, part of me wonders whether this is a little outdated.  For example, I have had this conversation many times:

    Me: (calling a family/couple for a visit) Hi, it’s Reverend Kyle from Holy Cross.

    Them: Oh Hi Kyle, what can I do for you?

    Me: Well I was just hoping that I could set up a time to come for a visit.

    Them :  . . . . Why?

    There have been many times where parishoners of mine – usually of the younger ilk – think that I want to visit them because they have done something wrong.   Plus, with both parents working, somtimes it’s hard to find a time which will be conducive for a visit.  Do people rally want to entertain the Priest after a long day of work? 

    So I wonder if the younger generations of our church are that into visiting anymore.  Thoughts anyone?

  9. Kyle, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head… or at least you’ve raised an issue that we really aren’t acknowledging. I’ve noticed the same generational divide to be true where I live. Younger families haven’t been interested in (or haven’t understood) the traditional “rector’s visit”. I’ve been told that those with kids simply don’t have time for it.

    On the other hand, younger parishioners have been the first to invite me over for a BBQ in the summer, to ask for help with a job search, or to suggest I meet their teenage child for a coffee and talk over family issues. And it’s great! It’s an opportunity to walk alongside others in their everyday lives.

    From that perspective, I wonder if maybe I should be a little more patient when it comes to the formal tea and cookies visits: it does call me into a tradition that may very well be on its way out, but this conversation suggests that maybe it’s just a different way of walking with people in their everyday lives. After all, for many of those that truly are “shut in,” tea is part of the everyday routine.

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