Mrs. Hovis was a lady I loved to visit.
I was 7 years old and riding in the passenger seat of my dad’s 1968 Carolina blue Chevy station wagon. It was summertime, which meant that I often went with Dad on his afternoon visits. Every afternoon, Monday through Friday. Office work in the morning, pastoral visits in the afternoon. Appointments? No need. Someone was always home.
Like Mrs. Hovis. She and her husband lived in a century-old farmhouse somewhere in Gaston County. There was a big oak tree out front and an endless supply of Werthers candies inside her apron pocket.
There wasn’t a particular reason my dad was visiting except to check in, catch up with the family, and build relationship. The latter is what mattered the most. Relationship. Pastoral care has changed a lot over the years — like the church and society in general — but building relationship is what still matters most.
The changing landscape. You know as well as I that gone are the days of drop-ins with neighbors and front-porch chats. In seminary, student-pastors are encouraged against surprise visits — not because we don’t want to, but out of respect for privacy and our members’ busy schedules.
You’re not surprised to read about “change” in pastoral care. We experience change everywhere, especially in the serving industry. Doctors no longer make home visits, relying on online feedback and computer-generated reminders. Teachers have an increasingly difficult time forming relationships with parents. And when was the last time you knew your paper carrier’s name? … or the postal carrier or the local grocer or neighborhood police officer?
And yet relationship still matters. It’s the heartbeat of the church — a church founded on God’s intimate desire to be in relationship with us and who, through Jesus, showed us how to live in relationship with others.
Relationship matters. We have been very deliberate to form a pastoral care ministry that is rooted in building relationship … from hospital visits to the sharing of communion … from emailing a daily Prayer Chain to weekly phone calls by members of our new Telephone Team … from lunch with a pastor to home visits at the time of need … from weekly meetings of our pastoral care team to regular calls and cards and Sunday chats at church. All serve as vital components of our pastoral care ministry.
A key ingredient — and what may seem very different to some — is that we increasingly rely on you to help us out. Pastor David Nelson likes to quip, “I sure would like to read minds, but I can’t.”
Which leads me to make a simple but important request: If you, your spouse, or a loved one is in need of a pastoral visit, please let us know. It hurts my heart to discover that someone was in need and we weren’t able to journey with them through that need simply because we didn’t know or — and this happens occasionally, too — we were slow to respond. Through it all, please know that our great desire is to join in a ministry of “peace and mutual upbuilding for the sake of the gospel” (Romans 14:19).
I certainly don’t want to end without lifting up the powerful and faithful ministry of Pastor David Nelson, who heads up our pastoral care team. David brings a wealth of experience, but, most importantly, he deeply loves this congregation. What a blessing he is. This year he is joined by GeoRene Jones, a long-time member of St. John’s who is serving as a diaconal ministry intern. She brings a big, big heart to the field of pastoral care and a great sense of organizing things. With 200 members who are 80+ and 97 members on our “active pastoral care list,” her organizational skills have been enormously helpful.
Pastor Nelson wraps up our approach to pastoral care in this way: “We’re all in this together.” He’s right … which leads me to say, Thank you so much for your partnership, your care, and your eagerness to build one another up for the sake of the gospel!