As a family, taking care of each other is an important part of what our congregation is called to do. Oftentimes, people assume it falls to a pastor or other paid member of the staff to provide this level of pastoral care, but let’s not forget that Luther espoused a “priesthood of all believers.” Which means we can all provide care, share the good news, and serve as Christ to our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.
Over the weekend, I had a powerful image of pastoral care shown to me in a unique way. My husband’s grandfather is dying. He is on hospice but able to be at home. We were visiting him on Sunday, and Michael had brought his violin so that his grandpa could hear some favorite hymns. It was a nice visit, and we enjoyed our time as a family. Shortly after Michael finished playing, there was a knock at the door. The pastor, pastor’s wife, and a member were visiting. The church had celebrated communion that morning, so the pastor had even brought this sacrament. (This is something our eucharistic ministers do regularly, but rarer for the denomination and church to which Michael’s grandpa belongs.) The pastor looked around, and it was clear he had not expected a house full of people. However, he took it in stride and offered the remaining communion to all of us. In what seemed too providential, there were six of us and six communion wafers. So we sat there, in the living room of my grandparents-in-law, and ate of the bread and drank of the cup. Michael played some more hymns on his violin and we sang a few together. The pastor read Psalm 46. I didn’t talk much, but observed a lot.
To see the pastoral care from a nearby perspective, without directly being the object was a powerful time for me. It called to mind my own experience with our caring ministries. In November 2016, I was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage. Pastor Erdos called us and prayed with us as we navigated this. Trinity provided us with a delicious, home cooked meal. (Sidenote about this: we had moved from what the directory said, so this blessed couple who delivered the meal had taken it to our old address. Michael met them there after we realized what had happened, and they insisted in on writing down our current address.) For the next few months, at Christmas and New Year, we got cards from these beautiful souls that assured us they were still praying for us and wished us well in the new year as we moved on. I cannot remember the names of these people, but I know I still have the cards tucked away somewhere. In a time of hardship when things didn’t make sense, it was so uplifting to know that we were cared for, prayed for, and thought of.
Pastoral care is a powerful, transformative experience. It impacts the giver and the receiver. But the stories are hard to tell. They’re intimate and full of raw, real emotion. So we don’t often hear the stories unless we are privy to the experience. In a time when we hear so much of people not caring about others, and it’s easy to lose hope or become disillusioned, I offer up my experiences with pastoral care as a sign that we as the body of Christ are doing good work. We are called to be here for the lost, lonely, broken, hurting, missing, and everything else the world throws at us. We are called to support and encourage each other. I know firsthand that at Trinity English, we are doing this in deep ways through our pastors, staff, and dedicated volunteers. We can’t always hear the stories, and it’s a different story than that of Open Doors or Assistance Hours, but it’s just another one of the ways in which we are seeking to change the world through Jesus Christ.
Receiving communion with dying family members isn’t always part of pastoral care. The emotions I experienced in witnessing this act won’t be experienced every time, but pastoral care opens the door for these opportunities. To connect deeply with others in a relational way and build that connection upon the firm foundation of Jesus’ love. Being on the receiving end, sharing in the care provided, and knowing that there are countless people within our own community who are providing this kind of care through serving as a Eucharistic Minister, Deaconess, Stephen Minister, or with altar flower delivery, telephone calls, cooking ministry, and many others. We are doing so much to take care of our own who are experiencing difficulty or unable to be part of the family of God on Sundays. It’s part of our promise as we are baptized into this faith, and you can be part of it. In big ways and small ways. Start where you are. With who you know. With what you have. How can you use these to care for others in Jesus’ name?