I remember a childhood morning when the church’s Associate Pastor came to visit our home. Some emergency meant that family had gathered and when the news reached the church office, the Associate Pastor was dispatched to visit.
A pastors visit wasn’t uncommon but was most certainly a special occasion. The pastor was seen as high and lifted up. He spoke from the pulpit. He seemed to have special knowledge into all things holy. They may not have acted “holier than thou” but we sure did see them that way.
The pastoral visit usually came in response to a prayer request that landed on the always active church prayer chain (from listening to mom’s end of those prayer chain phone calls, it seemed more like gossip than godly). The visit could also be triggered by writting something down in the little red portfolio of the pew, passed dutifully by the faithful each week. That portfolio even a box to check if you wanted a pastor to visit.
This morning the Associate Pastor and my mom talked quietly in the living room while my aunt, who had come to town, cooked scrambled eggs for my sister and I. This California aunt didn’t visit us rainy Washington folks very often so she wasn’t unaccustomed to the variables of the Rutledge kitchen. One of those nuances was our frying pan the wood handle of which would swivel separate from the pan itself.
While mom and Pastor chatted, Aunt Maxine finished the eggs. She pulled the pan from the stove. The wood handle stayed firm in her grip and the rest of the pan reversed, sending the eggs in a 180-degree (as in an arc, not temperature…eggs only need to be cooked at 160) to the kitchen floor. My non-church attending Aunt’s natural response, in spite of Pastors, children or her guest status in our home, was, “Shit.”
That wasn’t common language in our house and certainly was not language we used around the pastorate.
This, though, was real life. That is how it was lived that morning in that situation with those players. Welcome pastor. We hope you enjoyed your trip from the pulpit to the flying eggs of our home…and we hope you didn’t plan to eat.
I’m sure that pastor had a nice conversation with my mom that morning. He may have learned a lot, but I doubt he learned near as much in the conversation as he did in that scrambled moment and our response (which was one second of aghast followed by belly laughter).
Six weeks ago we had a little family emergency. I left my job. We don’t have a red portfolio at our church, but we do have prayer request cards. One Sunday morning I filled one out. I also sent emails to a couple of the pastoral staff (or their assistants because the pastor’s email isn’t public) letting them know of my change.
I wasn’t hoping to have a pastor visit my house for eggs that next morning, but I did have some level of expectation. I’m guessing (but I don’t know) that my need has ended up on a prayer chain of some sort. The living room visit is a lot to ask…but an email, phone call, meeting at Starbucks?
This isn’t a statement about my church as much as it is our world. It’s not an uncommon story. I have a friend whose son was in the hospital on a ventilator, fighting for their life. This young adult was active in the church, even in small group leadership. The mom reached out to the church and gave them the details of what was happening. They got a card a week later, as their son was starting his new life in a wheelchair, that said, “Feel better.” “Feel better?” That was the best they could do.
I couldn’t even tell you what I’m looking for in a response for myself or my friend, but that’s not it.
Again this isn’t a statement against a church or even “the church” as much as it is a reflection on our world. Today’s churches are evaluated by the metrics of this world – attendance, conversions, baptisms, number of campuses, “followers,” podcast, subscriptions, etc.
The value of pastoral invitation is lost. I can understand. Visiting someone in a hospital is not fun. It personally can give me the heebee-geebees. It’s also expensive. Sending one salary all over town to meet with people is inefficient. Finally, the need is huge, especially at mega-churches. So who gets a visit? Who gets a card? Who makes the call? How do you make these decisions and how do you handle the volume?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, we just need to do better.When I’m getting better care from my neighborhood community than I am from my church community, something is off.
I guess what I want is a church community that will help me pick up scrambled eggs from the kitchen floor.