It’s been a while and there have been many opportunities for me to catch up, but I have chosen not to do so. No reason other than I simply do not do it. So here is my attempt…

Recently, I have been pondering the issue of “pastoral care.” Not so much asking what pastoral care really is (although 10 people would have 10 different answers), but asking the overall purpose. As a pastor and occasional volunteer chaplain, I am sometimes amazed the response I get when walking into a hospital room. There are times when it is obvious that the persons in the room feel as though God has now entered the room. No, they do not think that I am God, but that some how God may not have been there until the “religious official” stopped by. This is not always the case, but it certainly does happen.

I see this from two perspectives. When I am working as chaplain, I often see it with folks who are dealing with major issues, including death of a loved one. Many times these individuals do not have a church affiliation and do not have a concept of God simply “being.” I understand this one. As the chaplain, I represent the wisdom and authority of religion, which in turn represents the power of God manifested through Christ which now works through the Holy Spirit. Lots of words to say that the chaplain brings God into the room.

In the church, I find this a bit more complex and more interesting. There are many folks who do not need (or want) a pastor to come pray with them before a surgery. Some will even make a special call to the church to make it known that they do not expect a visit at the hospital.

Here’s where it gets challenging. There are those who tell someone, who tell someone, who tell…(you get the idea) that they are having a surgical procedure and want the church to “know.” I often interpret these things as FYI’s, if you will. I make sure to put them in my prayer notes and pray for them. Sometimes that works just fine. Other times it comes back to bite me…hard! What I often interpret as an FYI, is sometimes meant to be more of a request. Meaning, “I’m having surgery, make sure the church (Pastor) knows so he can come visit with me in the prep room before the procedure takes place.”

Since I interpret this as simply a piece of information and not a request, it can make it’s way through the grapevine that “the pastor didn’t even come to pray with me.” This can be heard as the pastor not caring about a person. Of course, this is not the case, but how do we undue the damage that is done?

So, here’s the point. In pastoral care, how is a pastor (anyone doing pastoral care) to know the unwritten expectations? My first thought is for people to give clear expectations when informing the church of a procedure, hospital stay, etc. I’m not sure that this is reasonable. Would people feel comfortable saying, “I’m having surgery and I expect the pastor to come see me beforehand.” I don’t think that will happen. In the meantime, I will continue to use my best judgement and hope that I am correct. I have no doubt that will require more even more grace from the folks I serve.

Grace and Peace,