The cross made by Leonard MacArthur for the occasions when I visit him at home.
Visiting the sick is an essential Christian ministry. It’s one of the works of mercy mentioned in Matthew 25, along with feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and visiting those in prison; in the letter of James, we are told, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
This was probably simpler in a time when most people lived in small villages where everything was a short walk apart and everyone knew everyone’s business. Nowadays, with much larger and more far-flung circles of connection, it can be more of a challenge to make sure that sick and shut-in folks get the care they need. Just getting to the hospital through Montreal traffic can be a monumental task!
The days when hospital staff would automatically contact someone’s pastor when they checked in, are over. Medical confidentiality now means that if you are in the hospital and you want the pastor or other church people to know, you need to tell them yourself. Relying on the grapevine means we might not know you were there until you go home again (if ever)!
If you know in advance that you’re having surgery or another procedure and would like a visit, please do get in touch, and be as clear as possible about what you would like – prayer before the procedure? A visit a day or two later, once the anaesthetic has worn off? Or a visit after you go home?
In general, in fact, clarity is deeply appreciated. Some people like lots of attention when they’re sick; some (despite the injunctions in the gospels!) prefer to be left alone. Knowing what you genuinely prefer is enormously helpful, and I for one will never be offended if you tell me that you don’t want a visit!
Conversely, the clergy and other pastoral visitors also appreciate the understanding that unless the situation is a matter of life and death, we are unlikely to be able to drop everything and go right away, and will prefer to choose a time when we can prepare appropriately and have a leisurely visit, without distractions.
What about what actually happens during a visit? Well, in accordance with the instructions in the letter of James above, I generally bring my communion kit, which also contains anointing oil. I’ll sit and chat, and offer prayer, anointing and communion, but any and all of these are of course completely optional. Please know that if you are NPO (unable to receive nourishment by mouth), “spiritual communion”, in which the elements are displayed and the words of administration said, is still considered fully valid reception of the Sacrament.
Our team of Pastoral Visitors, guided by Yvonne Wakeland and Gladys Randle, does a great job of managing visits to long-term shut-ins and also keeping track of those who may be ill or in the hospital for the short term. They will shortly begin the annual round of Christmas visits, bringing flowers, goodies, greetings and good cheer from the congregation to those who have a harder time leaving the house. If you’d like to be involved with this ministry, just say the word to Yvonne, Gladys or me!