Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pastoral Visitation: Survey Responses and Reflections

Thanks all for your responses to my survey on Pastoral Visiting. Feel free to keep them coming - my interest is ongoing!

Some background on my reasons for my questions. I've just hit my two year anniversary at the church I serve in Central New York. I have about 100 in attendance on Sundays (except in summers, when attendance could be anything) and about 450 members on the rolls, plus constituents. I certainly have not visited everyone or even nearly everyone on the books in my two years. I've visited those who are home bound, those who have found themselves in crisis, and those who have invited me to their homes for one reason or another. But, I still want to connect with those others I've not met, who don't come to worship regularly if it all.

So, our evangelism committee is undertaking a project - a series of dinners late this summer and early this fall for groups of 20-25 people - groups by age, groups by geographic location, groups by common interest. I'm hoping to get to know people better, meet at least some that I've not yet met, and help some of our newer and/or less active members find a group within the church with whom they can share fellowship.

Pastoral visiting can be a tricky issue. Sometimes, pastors (like me, for sure) overlook situations that need attention. Sometimes I mean to call someone or follow up on something, and before I realize it, a week has gone by. Already, I've had both positive and negative feedback on the 'dinner party' plan - some are excited to help out, some think I should just be visiting all these people on my own. Sometimes, parishioners feel upset because they've missed a few weeks of church and no one has noticed. Sometimes, parishioners feel upset because they've missed a few weeks and someone has noticed! Visiting is a tricky thing to figure out, so I've been curious: is there a 'norm'? A best method? How do pastors utilize laity in visitation?

Of course, like most things church, the responses have been as varied as the people who respond.

From the laity, some have never had a pastor visit, and some have had long visits from them. Some seem happy with their time with their pastor, and others wish for more/different time, and it is not always directly connected to the actual amount of time their pastor has spent in visiting them!

From the clergy, some visit 5, 10, 15, or 20 hours a week. Mine own visiting is certainly closer to 5 hours a week than 20. Visiting of shut-in members happens quarterly, monthly, biweekly, weekly. Most have at least some help from laity and/or other staff/volunteers in some form.

Thank you for your responses. I'm constantly amazed in ministry by my experiences, and by peoples' need to be loved - I try to remember that it is the need for love that is at the heart of our care. This week, I visited someone who was related to a regularly attending member, and I referred to myself as "his pastor." He was surprised that I thought of him as 'my' member, and touched, just because I would claim him. Sometimes, it takes so little to give so much.
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