Can we even say, “post-covid”? Just today I read that the city of Philadelphia has reinstated a mask mandate. Even with this, we know that things are getting back to normal for many of us. This includes regular pastoral ministry. I have made a few visits to the hospital. Our small hometown hospital is now allowing regular visitation while the big city hospitals are still more buttoned up. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are for the most part open as well. Pastors are still not allowed to be with members either before or after surgery (at least where I live).
It is hard to believe how far pastors have fallen in the eyes of our modern health care. When I first started in the late 1990s, pastors were part of the care team. The patient's health needs were discussed with the pastor, and we helped encourage our members accordingly. Now we are not even allowed to be with our people to care for them. This is one of the ugliest, and might I add, most unnecessary fallouts from the Covid lock-downs. People were left alone in their time of need separated from their family, friends, and pastors. This needs to change. The hospital is no place to be alone and separated from those who love and care about you.
As our world opens back up, I find it hard to fall back into the old routine. This is partly true because of the reason above and the level of Covid related restrictions still in place. There are other issues as well. Some of our people still are not ready for in-person visits. Covid is a real concern for many. My father-in-law had a terrible struggle with it a few months ago. The last thing you want to do is bring Covid into the house, especially if someone has pre-existing conditions.
The improvement in virtual communication and its widespread use gave opportunities for pastoral ministry going forward. I know of pastors who even now continue to have regular prayer meetings and Bible Studies through Zoom. We find that having been forced to use texts, email, virtual meeting programs, and the phone– we like it, and it works well in some situations. Who really wants to get up before dawn and be at the church for prayer or Bible Study, especially during the wintery months? It is appealing to make a cup of coffee, sit in your favorite chair or desk at home, and still be able to pray and study the Bible. There are some drawbacks, but there are some real advantages. Technology allows us to contact more people, Many people are more receptive to a phone call or video chat than a personal visit in the home for a variety of reasons.
However, despite all the advantages of technology, we still need to get back to some of the old fashion pastoral ministry. We need to get to the hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. We need to visit the sick and those in need. Home visits are especially important for shut-ins, the elderly, or those with needs. There is something special and powerful about being with someone in-person. These opportunities do not need to be lost by pastors and elders, or regular members. We need to have the touch of a sympathetic hug. We need to be able to wipe away the tears. We need to feel the reverberations of a laugh. There are times that we simply need to be with other Christians.
In many ways, the pastoral ministry in the local church changed forever during Covid, but some things never change. There is always a need for in-person ministry by pastors, elders, and members. We can do some exciting things with technology, but we must never let technology replace in-person pastoral ministry.