As Pastor Rhodes states, the rhythm of a parish pastor “back in the day” was to work in the office in the mornings and visit in the afternoons. “Pastoral care was centered on the pastor’s presence in your living room, fully engaged in the rhythm of your life,” he notes.
Because of the changing nature of society, families, and the church, the rhythm of pastoral care has changed. “It’s still just as important,” says Pastor Rhodes, “but our approach is very different.”
One driving factor is the sheer size of the church. St. John’s, including its two schools, has 61 employees and an annual budget of nearly $2.5 million. This past week, 97 of our members were on the “active pastoral care list,” which includes the homebound, hospitalized, those recovering, and those who have recently lost a loved one.
“We feel so blessed to share in the ministry of pastoral care,” says Pastor David Nelson, pastor for care and homebound ministry. “But over the years our delivery system has had to change. The focus can no longer be on a single ordained pastor, but on members of a pastoral care team — a team that faithfully includes members of the congregation as well.”
Since February is Heart Month and Valentine’s Day is Feb. 14, GeoRene Jones thought this would be a good month to lift up pastoral care “because it is at the heart of every congregation.” GeoRene, a diaconal ministry candidate, is spending her internship year focused on pastoral care. “Our touchstone verse we use is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” GeoRene notes.
“Pastoral care is God’s love and grace in concrete form,” Pastor Nelson says. “Where a member has a concern, a need, pain, isolation, sickness or sorrow, pastoral care is given.”
At St. John’s, pastoral care takes the following shape:
- Hospital Visitation: Two teams visit the hospital every day we know of a hospitalization. The pastoral staff visits Monday through Thursday and are on-call for weekend emergencies. A Hospital Visitation Team of lay folks visits the hospital every day but Saturdays. “It’s important that we know of someone’s hospitalization,” Pastor Rhodes says. “Gone are the days when the hospital will contact us. As of late 2014, we can’t even ask the hospital for a list of those who have identified themselves as ‘Lutheran.’”
- Prayer and Telephone Ministry. Karen Goodman is the staff assistant for pastoral care. She organizes the prayer chain and emails it daily to those who have asked to be on the email list. It is important to note that Karen relies entirely on those who have called the church office and asked to be on the prayer chain. A new addition to our Prayer Ministry is the Telephone Team. Team members call to check on those who have been on the prayer list for a certain amount of time. .
- Communion Visitation. Pastor Nelson leads a team of clergy and lay visitors who share Holy Communion with our homebound members on a regular basis. Lay communion visitors include Perry Hood, Linda/Roger Hull, Carol Pomeroy, Willi Beilfuss, and Gretchen Witt. If you are interested in participating or in receiving communion, contact Pastor Nelson.
- Pastoral Visitation. Pastors are eager to visit on an as-needed basis, especially in times of death, grief, or significant transition. Visits are often made in the home, but increasingly our members prefer a different location — over lunch, coffee, or in a private meeting at church. If you or a family member is in need of a pastoral visit, please contact one of our pastors.
“Although we try to keep our thumb on the various needs of our members,” says Pastor Rhodes, “we ultimately rely on the members themselves — or their family members — to let us know if a visit is needed. Occasionally we miss something — and we feel badly about it — but we can guarantee we won’t miss anything if someone gives us a call.”