Faith Works 5-5-11
Just a knock on the door
So, you all know where to show up tomorrow, right? No, after church.
Sunday, 3:30 pm, Midland Theatre in downtown Newark, Gospel Celebration, a concert for the "Coalition of Care" helping congregations serve those in need around Licking County (www.coalitionofcare.net). Lots of great choirs, ensembles, & soloists, with the ticket just $20. Come help us pack the house!
With that, I've asked you to come where I'll be at (and it's a sincere invitation). But if I come to where you are, especially if I'm your pastor or clergyperson of any sort, it's a "call."
Pastoral calls have been the single biggest thing that's changed in ministry over the last thirty years. Some would argue that it should be technology, which has changed greatly, but it hasn't transformed the work of ministry in the same way . . . yet.
And others might say that the rise of contemporary Christian music and the worship style that goes with it is the biggest change, but even there, it's one of those things where your congregation has either done it, or not. Many are still relatively untouched by contemporary worship, or have never known any other style.
Pastoral calling, on the other hand, has really changed right across the board for anyone who's been in a ministry position since the 1980s. One aspect of that is the explosion of hospitals, and the shortening of stays. Thirty years ago, a pastor in Newark rarely went to Franklin County to pray with a parishoner before surgery, while now it's a regular event (some might even say weekly). And if you don't get right over there, you might just arrive to find them dismissed already.
While many folks still have some of the same expectations today that they did then, which most clergy I know try to meet.
That's actually not what I'm thinking about, though. It's the other side of pastoral calls, the "home visit."
It came to mind because I was recently reading in the annals of Rev. Jacob Little, the legendary Granville pastor at First Presbyterian there, who served from the end of the pioneer period to the Civil War, and left a large amount of written material along with the general church records.
Apparently, what Parson Little did each Sunday was post, in the vestibule, two lists. One was of those who had not paid their pew rents (long story, but just call it "their pledge"), and the other was a list of those families he intended to visit that week.
These weren't social calls, either. Little would quiz the children about their studies in Scripture, invite the parents to discuss doctrine, and generally inquire about the state of their souls and fitness to receive communion.
The posted list helps to explain why the Reverend would often come to the door of a home and hear the head of the household loudly already at prayer, with special blessings asked for the pastor. Old Jacob had very little sense of irony, so I'm not sure he got what was going on, since he would report these incidents with great approval.
Anyhow, Rev. Little would call on parish families three or four days a week, between the noon meal and supper, two or three families each day. Apparently he could count on arriving at a house, on a weekday afternoon, and find the entire family, father included, there waiting for him.
Today, catching people at home? You'd have to call in the evening, if then, and quite frankly, there aren't many people who like having visitors at home in the evening. The new reality is that most pastoral home visits tend to be associated with crisis and bad news, which warps the sense of having a minister at the door even more.
We are still coming up with what a new model can be for pastoral calls on a good day, when there's not a problem to be dealt with, and maybe even for a relaxed but serious conversation. Most clergy are really interested in the state of your soul, the condition of your heart, and welcome a chance to talk and pray with you about things of the spirit.
We do have those conversations with people in assisted living, nursing homes, and yes, even in hospitals when the stay isn't measured in hours but there's a day or two at hand. For everyone else – should we try going back to posting lists?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.