In my mid-20s, my wife and I first encountered the Lutheran tradition. We had begun rubbing shoulders with Lutherans in Philadelphia. But now in England, we simply could not find a suitable church and, so, checked the British version of the Yellow Pages and found nearby Resurrection Lutheran Church at the Chapel of Saints Timothy and Titus.
Unsure about these Lutherans who seemed so “Catholic,” I set out on reconnaissance one Sunday morning to ascertain just how “evangelical” the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England really was. The parish pastor kindly fielded a few questions and then encouraged me to “come and see.” And so we did. It was a strange, yet reverent and satisfying visit. God’s Word was preached in truth, the gospel was proclaimed to Christians as well as the unbeliever, and the liturgy was dignified, even though the congregation hardly amounted to twenty people. When the Divine Service was over, and to our surprise, we were invited to the Pastor’s house for a barbecue.
To be sure, we respected and honored the Office of Holy Ministry that the Pastor held, but we grew to love our Pastor and his family, having them over for meals and such, mostly because he cared; cared enough to call us at home, visit us in the hospital, stop by after a birth, and other such things. Our pastor was personally present. Pastoral care in the Lutheran tradition evidenced an incarnational dimension that extended outside the church, spilling into where we lived and worked, reminding us of the promises of Christ, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) and “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). This care, along with the true preaching of the gospel and sacraments administered according to gospel, moved us into the tradition of Lutheranism in which we live, rear our children, and in which we will eventually die.
Pastoral care includes the work entrusted by God to the Church to be exercised through its pastors and through those under their supervision (e.g., Deacons, Deaconesses, Elders, Vicars, etc.). In the Lutheran tradition, pastoral care is all about personally applying the benefits of Christ to those who desire them in faith, and doing so in the name of the Triune God. In our parochial experience, the only context in which we were accustomed to seeing this happen was during church. Lutheran pastors, we found, were equally comfortable presiding during the Eucharist at one’s bedside as at the Altar. In other words, visitation—being in the homes of believers in person—was seen to be an important dynamic of the pastor’s vocation; feeling just as at home in your home as in the House of the Lord.
Now of course, this doesn’t mean that the pastor should help himself to the fridge, but it does mean that he should not have jitters about showing up at your door wearing a collar, ready to pray, preach, counsel, absolve, and commune with you and whoever else he finds in your home. The reason for this is the fact that all of us need a shepherd. The Good Shepherd has provided for us undershepherds — priestly pastors — in the midst of our sheep-lives. These undershepherds are most effective in their Christ-emulating vocation when personally present and personally involved in the lives of their parishioners.
The Good Shepherd has provided for us undershepherds — priestly pastors — in the midst of our sheep-lives.
On a visit from your clerics, you should expect to pray, to hear the word of God’s promises and fulfillment in Christ, to be blessed and comforted in the holy name of Jesus. Because in the role the Lord has called each and every duly called and ritely ordained man, he possesses the privilege to stand in the stead and speak by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ the promises of God for you, whether in your kitchen, den, living room, bedroom, hospital room, dorm room, prison cell or rehabilitation center. The point is this: Christ Jesus brings his word and presence to where you are and he is even willing to do so through the likes of your personally present pastor.
If you desire a visit, then let your request be known to your pastor: “Please bring Holy Communion”; “Let’s do Confession and Absolution”; “I need counsel from God’s Word.” It will be through the means of grace, augmented by the pastoral presence of one who represents Jesus in his person, that God will deal with you in mercy and goodness because of his love for you in Jesus Christ.
The reason for visiting parishioners greatly varies. Pastors enter homes and hospitals to celebrate births, birthdays, mourn deaths, receive confession, hang out, hold hands, laugh, cry, commune, comfort, absolve, anoint, reconcile, mediate, moderate, bless and break bread. It does not matter the reason. Sometimes he just shows up to see if things are well with your soul and those whom you love most. Every visit should be esteemed a privilege for the pastor, an expression of confidence in one’s ministry. Each visit also yields opportunities for mutual edification. Not only will your faith likely grow, but your reception of the Word and the love and care ministered by the pastor will bolster his faith, too.
Is there such a thing as a bad visit? Only if the pastor loses vision of the purpose of the visit and it becomes pointless or burdensome for the parishioner. By design, bad visits shouldn’t happen because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present and active in all gospel-proclaiming, Christ-representing visits, even when the occasion is misfortune, tragedy, or death. While representing Jesus Christ, the chief shepherd of the church, to those who are suffering, pastors themselves are profoundly reminded and comforted by our gracious Lord that he is present and that he cares, just as 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Cast all of your cares upon him; for he cares for you.” My hope and prayer is that it is the same and more for you when your pastors visits.
I recall one time being driven on a visit by Deaconess Doris Snashall. I was in a particularly salty mood: the long workday had gone poorly; I was far behind schedule, overburdened, doggedly-tired, hungry, hot and irritable. Not exactly the image of Christ. More like the pickle-puss pastor. Then the Deaconesses and I prayed together before reaching the door. My world stopped turning on the axis of my ego and the Holy Spirit had me quickly recognize that this visit wasn’t about me. It never is; it never should be. Rather, it was about the Lord ministering to a dear son or daughter of his, a child that he had made his own. I was a servant. It was time to serve. It was about concrete care being brought to someone in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The pastor will not come unannounced. At the same time, you don’t have to call in a cleaning crew or fire up the oven because pastor’s-a-comin’. Remember, our Lord Jesus has made us family to one another. Relax in your own home; it’s okay if there are dishes in the sink and you have a used couch. Likewise, kick back in the hospital bed: the pastor is there for you; he’s not there for the view or to sample the food.
Welcome a visit. Ask for a visit. Or, if the time is right, give a “yes” if your pastor asks to stop by for a visit. There will be blessings both for pastor and parishioner through Christ Jesus our Lord.