09 July 2008

Pastoral Care

I knew at the outset of this summer that among the many duties of a minister, pastoral care is my biggest blind spot. The situations in which people need their pastor to be present - illness, divorce, imminent death of a loved one, unexpected death of a loved one - these are, for the most part, foreign to my experience. Furthermore (or perhaps as a result), I don't really know quite what they hope the pastor will do or say during a visit, and intercessory prayer presents something of a challenge to me.

But I'm learning. Next week I'm going to spend half the day with our Pastor of Care & Nurture, and this afternoon I will go to a nursing home with another associate pastor. But I wanted to get something in here about my trip to the hospital last Wednesday afternoon.

We (the associate pastor & I) visited a woman who had been in a coma since having a stroke on that Sunday. She was in her forties, and had had a really tough time over the years with alcohol and with heartbreak. It had taken a toll on her body, and here she was, being watched over in the hospital by her mother. That Wednesday morning, the doctors had told her that the brain damage from Sunday's stroke was something from which she would not recover, so by the time we arrived, they were mostly just watching her breathing, to make sure that she stayed alive until her brother arrived from Wisconsin. She passed on Saturday morning.

Both mother and daughter have had a long relationship with the church, but the mother is very active here, and right now is totally standing on the church, and on God, to support her; in the last eighteen months she has lost a husband, a grandson, and a daughter. Today we will plan the funeral.

I don't have any grand lessons from the visit, but it was a confusing time. I was uncomfortable, and scared by the situation; I have never been in the room with a dying person before, or been part of a conversation about a person's imminent death. When we got out of the room, I was sweaty and choked up. On the other hand, it was a very peaceful time. There was no uncertainty about what was going to happen, and the mother's sorrowful resignation to God was really a profession of faith. Those really are sacred, grace-filled moments.

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