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My introduction to local church ministry, nearly twenty-five years ago, was a baptism by fire, or perhaps I should say, by sickness. A number of the people in the church were hospitalized, and I went to visit, to encourage, to pray. But I felt horribly out of place.
This was a world of science and medicine. What good could I possibly do? Of what value were Scripture and prayer compared to surgery, therapies, and miracle drugs? I was intimidated. Still, I faithfully visited the sick and sat with their families during those critical hours in surgery when things could go either way.
I did what I thought was expected of me-administered Scripture and prayer. Not knowing what else to do, I just tried to be there. I listened, without saying much, mostly because I didn't feel I had a lot worth saying.
Then I began receiving thank-you notes. "It meant so much to have you there when I was facing surgery." "I can't tell you how much strength I gained from your visit."
I couldn't believe it. The little I did had helped?
About two years later, I learned firsthand the dynamics of pastoral care.
Nine days after our daughter was born, my wife, Brenda, hemorrhaged. I rushed her to the hospital. By the time we arrived, she was nearly unconscious from loss of blood.
Immediately she was whisked away to surgery, and after I signed the consent forms, I was left alone with my fears. A host of terrifying possibilities set upon me. I paced the floor in agitation.
Then my mother arrived. She didn't say anything, at least nothing I can remember, but I felt better just knowing she was there. Somehow I was strengthened, comforted, and encouraged by her presence.
The surgery was successful, and my wife recovered. But I have never forgotten the ministry I received from my mother's presence that day.
Since then I've become highly sensitive to what makes for a welcome presence and what types of pastoral presence are definitely unwelcome.
I find it helpful to remind myself what seriously ...