In the gospel of Matthew we hear the persistent questions from Jesus' followers: “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?” The reply from Jesus speaks to all, both then and now: “Whenever you did it to the least of my people, you did it unto me.”
When we read that passage, it is very likely we hear it from the perspective of one being called to do the helping tasks. But take a moment in reading this and try to imagine yourself as the one who is hungry or thirsty; imagine yourself in need of clothing for warmth in a Minnesota winter, or imagine yourself sick and without healthcare available, or in prison without legal representation. Jesus speaks to us, calls us to serve those in need. Serving others is what stewardship is about.
The parish nurse is one person among us to assist in care of those who are ill and infirm, who may be experiencing acute short-term illness, or who may be struggling with one or more chronic long-term health issues. With an acute illness there is sometimes need for hospitalization for a short time followed by a recovery period at home, with a reasonable goal of returning to normal independent living. With chronic and/or complex medical conditions, someone may require care in a hospital followed by a transitional care facility or rehabilitation facility. If health status returns to a reasonable level of normalcy, the individual might return home, but often there is need for extended care in a facility or at home with assistance of healthcare professionals and/or family.
Our pastors provide care for our members through regular visits to those who are in hospital. When there is a surgery planned, the pastor makes a point to arrive at the hospital early enough prior to the procedure to have prayer with the patient. The church staff make every effort to learn when exactly someone goes into, and goes home from hospital or care facility. The patient, i.e. you or a family member, can help with that by notifying the church office when a surgical procedure is scheduled as well as when there needs to be a hospital admission for a change in health status. Try to remember to ask your family or the hospital staff to phone Good Shepherd to inform us of your illness. The reason we ask for this information is found in the verses from Matthew 25, we want to obey the Word of the Lord to visit the sick.
The role of the parish nurse is to visit someone who is ill at a hospital or other care facility, as well as after that person returns home. The reason for this is continuing support, spiritual, emotional, and physical, during a period of healing. Not everyone regains an optimal state of health, and over time the need for assistance at home is the new normal for the individual. The decline in health and strength often results in need for assistance in mobility (walking, bathing, everyday activities), at some point driving may be restricted, or there comes a time when the care needed is too complex for family to manage. In those circumstances, it is not unusual for someone to become homebound.
As we, the congregation, remain faithful in our various callings, we do not want to ignore those in need. We don't want to forget those dear members who can no longer participate as actively in the life of Good Shepherd as they once did. What a privilege and calling to be the church to those who are limited in their ability to be a part of Sunday worship and other means of service and worship. In addition to regular visits from church staff, there are opportunities for members of Good Shepherd to volunteer to visit the sick and homebound and bring communion to them. Pastoral Intern Heather Roth-Johnson organized a team of Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) to bring communion to our homebound members once each month. There are others who have regularly visited the sick and homebound over many years, since the years past when there was a formal Friendly Visitors program at Good Shepherd. There is opportunity for additional visitors, and it remains fairly informal with some guidance from staff―pastor, intern, or parish nurse.
Imagine again that you may be the one who is ill, frail, weakened or homebound. Be reassured that a visitor from church is not a social call; it is understood that you are not well, nor strong --- you need not serve coffee and cookies, nor do you need to clean your house. Be assured that any personal private information about you that arises in these conversations is held in confidence by your visitor and not shared with others. You are not any less valued in our faith community because you are limited in your abilities and activities. Please do not let your health condition isolate you from church. Our visitors have the intention and the goal of bringing a friendly greeting, words of encouragement and compassion, prayer, and if you wish, communion. Our ministry of visiting is enmeshed with our prayer shawl ministry and our prayer chain, as other avenues of expressing care for our members. Be assured that you are not forgotten by the church, nor are any of ever forgotten by our Lord Jesus.
In conclusion, here are some responses from those who are the visitors, and some reactions from those who receive the visit themselves.
“What a privilege to share communion in such a personal and private setting; it felt especially holy.”
“I never knew him before I started regularly visiting him; what a rich history his life and faith have been.”
“She showed me her garden; she feels God's presence in all of nature.”
“It probably did me more good that it did for her! She wanted me to play her piano so I did.”
“She wept when we left; she was so happy to be included in this sort of worship.”
“I didn't have to worry about what I might say; once I got there, it was a blessing to me, as well.”