One of the most important aspects of pastoral ministry, certainly in the minds of most laity, is the pastor's responsibility to make hospital visits. We would all love it if our laity made their own visitation ministries more of a priority, but that shouldn't negate our pastoral responsibilities. While I am pretty faithful in hospital visitation (when I know that a parishioner or friend is in the hospital), too often I don't consider these visits among the most important parts of my ministry.
But they are. These are real moments of grace, when relationships are powerfully forged in the midst of crisis.
This morning, I visited an elderly lady connected with JUMC. In Jefferson Regional Medical Center now, she normally lives at a nearby Alzheimer's Care Unit, where they help take excellent care of her. As I spoke with this dear lady, I knew that she didn't grasp more than a word here or there. It was a precious visit. I read some Scripture to her, we talked, and we prayed (I normally anoint with oil as well, but didn't feel comfortable doing that unless she could clearly grant permission). I thanked her for allowing me to visit with her and told her I'd see her again tomorrow. Though she didn't really know I was there, who I am, or what was happening, did the visit make a difference?
I'm fairly certain that nothing I do today will be as important or meaningful as what I did this morning. There was grace in that room; it was a sacramental time, in many ways. The words of Scripture may not have been fully understood (are they ever, by anyone?), but the Spirit was doing what he does best...moving in a human heart.
I am blessed in that my office (and home) are 5 minutes from Jefferson Hospital, where I do the bulk of my visitation. Home for lunch now, this afternoon I'll be headed to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland, making another call (for those unfamiliar with Pittsburgh, Oakland is the section of Pittsburgh which contains several large hospitals as well as the main campus of Pitt). I pray God's blessings upon my visit later today, that grace would be all-present and that the Spirit will move, and I pray once again for my elderly friend at Jefferson Hospital, that throughout this day she would feel the presence of the merciful God who loves her so dearly.
(Incidentally, an excellent book which has a wonderful chapter on the theology of visitation is Thomas Oden's Pastoral Theology, which I heartily recommend to everyone in ministry, as I do all of Oden's work.)