I just got word that some neighbors (who don't attend our congregations, though they used to be members) were disappointed and angry that I didn't visit their son (who also hasn't attended our congregations since well before I was called 8 years ago) in the hospital.
Neither they nor their son called me to let me know he was in trouble. If they had called, I would have tried to visit. Perhaps they are under the assumption that I should know somehow.
Hospitals do not call pastors unless the patient explicitly directs them to. And even then they sometimes do not because of staffing shortages, emergencies, etc.
Now, one of the problems I face is that I have 4 congregations and am spread very thin already just with worship and confirmation class. I have 15 or so members who are truly shut-in. That is, they cannot leave the place where they live on their own or even with the assistance of their families. The places vary from year to year but these members are commonly scattered from Warren, Thief River Falls (5 separate locations in that city), Oklee, Red Lake, Grygla, Red Lake Falls, Clearbrook, Bemidji, Erskine, Fosston, Macintosh--some at home, some in nursing homes.
All of my shut-ins are neglected. It isn't possible for me to get to them all regularly.
I wrote about this in my pastoral report last January.
Here is how I prioritize.
Worship services and my teaching schedule consume 13 hours each week. That's not prep time, thats the actual worship/teaching and driving time. Sermon writing/memorizing takes between 8 and 20 hours a week depending upon the text and what's going on in the congregations. Prep for teaching Saturday school and the confirmands takes 2 to 3 hours a week.
These things must be done each week. Add a sick call, or a funeral there must be a trade off.
So I prioritize.
1) Someone calls me to the hospital/make a sick call. I will go. Unless this call comes from a 3rd party about a non-member. Legally a third party invitation is not an invitation and the hospital can treat it as a violation of privacy. Frankly, it is not my business that a person who is not part of my congregations is in the hospital unless they make it my business. The third party who wants me to visit needs to have that person or his family call me.
Nonetheless, these calls are of the highest priority and I will cancel shut-in and other visits in an effort to see the sick person: as I did yesterday so I could go to Fargo for a sick member.
2) A call from a member to a family/personal emergency-not life threatening or medical will take priority over shut-in calls. I will never go to such an emergency on the basis of a 3rd party notification. That is gossip. If the call comes from a family member involved in the problem, then I will go.
3) Shut-in visits. There are 15 real shut-ins in our parish right now. I try to visit them every month. But I don't get to them that often. Some of them I get to even more rarely. There are about 12 people who are borderline shut-ins that can get to church on their own or with family help, but choose not to. There are 3 who do get to church occasionally.
The priority in shut-in visits is to feed the hungry with God's Word and Sacrament. Those who are genuinely unable to get to church for word and Sacrament get the highest priority. Those who do get to church are already being fed. Those who can but don't are a special case. And while I try to get out to the lost sheep, I need my congregations to fill in this role more often. Because I can't be everywhere.
A typical shut-in visit is about 3 hours (including driving). There is no typical hospital/sick call. Very often they end up taking from 6 to 12 hours at a time, depending on the severity.
If I am sick I will not go on shut-in visits. I may go on a hospital call but will wear mask, gloves and gown. When our family is sick it can be a month before we are well enough for me to go on shut-in visits. Think about it. If our family gets sick just 3 times in the year, that's three months when I can't visit.
I'm also involved in going out and visiting people who have asked about our faith and congregations. Right now I have 5 different families that I'm working with toward bringing them into our common confession of faith. It takes time, and it takes visits. These have the lowest priority. That's why it takes so long.
I want you to know, whomever you are (whether my shut-ins or the non-member who for some reason expected me to know and visit) that I have not tried to neglect visiting you. I do want you to understand my position forces some serious limitations upon me.
And if you yourself don't let me know you want me to visit, please don't hold that against me.
Just call me. If you have any helpful suggestions on how I can better prioritize let me know.
Notice, I didn't include 4 Ladies' Aids, 3 Sunday Schools, 4 Voters' Assemblies, and the Parish Board meetings in this.
It adds up. I'm still doing the best I can.
So if you want me there, you need to call me.