Being a pastor means one is never caught up with pastoral care. At least in the United Methodist Church, people place a fairly high priority on pastoral visitation, and Methodists can sometimes be heard yearning for a pastor who knocks on doors more frequently.
Younger adults who may be working two jobs or are married with spouses working do not have the same high expectation of a home visit and might even resent the inconvenience. But adults ages 65 or older still place a high value on a pastor who will visit or contact them in the event of untoward circumstances in their life.
Pastoral care should be a high priority for every pastor. The role of shepherd is traditional, biblical and one of the hallmarks of being an effective clergyperson. Pastors can and should visit people at work, school, hospital, nursing home, prison and make home visits when possible.
But there is always one more visit, phone call, letter or text message remaining to be sent, and the pastor who makes 10 visits per week places him or herself in a pretty good position to hear a complaint from the 11th person on his list who now feels neglected.
Church members wondering why they haven't seen the pastor's car in their driveway might be surprised by how many visits or contacts a pastor might potentially be making weekly. There are meetings with deacons, elders and other members of the leadership. There are the hospital and nursing home visits. There are visits to hospice facilities, to members in jail and to funeral homes for visitation.
Add to this list the visits required to new members or to those who are visiting the church and the meetings a pastor has with other church and community leaders. Oh, yes, the pastor's family would like a little attention every once in a while, too.
There is, in other words, a bewildering array of decisions for the pastor to make when it comes to visitation or even a simple text or phone call. Here's a hypothetical example: A pastor has only one hour left in the day and must choose between visiting a hospice facility, where a church member is in a coma but family members are not be present, visiting a church member who has just learned his step-brother in Seattle committed suicide or visiting a young couple bringing their child for baptism next Sunday who want the pastor to explain the service.
Who does the pastor visit and who does he ignore? And what does he or she then later say to the other two families? Any explanation will sound either self-serving or as if he or she is making excuses.
For most pastors, visitation is one of the joys of ministry. But when the sun sets, there's always one more contact that could or should have been made, and usually the pastor is painfully aware that time ran out before the list was completed.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.