I would love to do a survey of ministers in the UK to find out how they are using their time during this coronavirus pandemic. My emails suggest that they are spending a good deal of time in ‘streaming’ services from home. Many are using ‘Zoom’ for meetings of their leadership (deacons, elders, the PCC etc) – and in so doing using half the time they might have done before the pandemic hit. Others are sending out long messages to their flock by e-mail.
But now that ministers can no longer visit people in their homes, how many are using their phones to ‘visit’? To my mind a personal phone conversation trumps every other form of electronic communication when it comes to pastoral care. During this period of lockdown, now is surely a good time for ministers to use the phone and have a personal conversation with every family in their church community.
It’s amazing how time efficient the phone can be. When I began my ministry at Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, I resolved to visit every person connected with the church. Although I could knock off several people at one go by making a family visit, nonetheless it took me two long years before I had been into every home. By contrast ‘visiting’ by phone is much quicker – there are no travel times; what’s more, while most home visits probably last around thirty minutes, ‘visits’ by phone are on average likely to take half the time, if not less. Most ministers could with ease visit all their people within two months maximum– and probably fulfil all their other commitments at the same time.
Let me illustrate what I have in mind:
- If ministers were to aim to make ten ‘visits’ by phone a day, that could well equate to less than three hours in the day (if an average ‘visit’ were to last twelve minutes, ten visits could take two hours; add the time of finding and dialling the number, include the possibility of two or three ‘visits’ needing extra time, throw in a quick coffee break, and the figure of three hours is perhaps reached)
- Set aside three such sessions a week, then within the first week thirty ‘visits’ have been made. After two weeks sixty, after three weeks, ninety, after four weeks 120. Bearing in mind that many of these ‘visits’ will have included families, then probably at least 150 people will feel they had a ‘visit’.
- Continue ‘visiting’ by phone for a further month, and almost certainly a further 150 people will feel they have had a ‘visit’. In other words, in two months 300 more people will feel they have had a ‘visit’. For many ministers this will be more than the total number of people who are in their care.
What a difference this could make. With relatively little effort, at a time when so many people are worried and frightened, a church could feel well and truly cared for by their minister! It could be a real ‘spiritual’ tonic.
Three other things need to be said:
- I envisage this visiting’ as in addition to all the other ‘visiting’ that is hopefully going on by others charged with pastoral care (e.g. a ‘pastoral’ team of lay visitors) and by leaders of all the other ‘activities’ in the church (youth leaders, Sunday School teachers. Bible study group leaders, etc). Yes, in normal times ministers will rightly delegate some of the routine visiting to others. But this is no ‘normal’ time. This is the minister visiting!
- Precisely because it is the minister visiting, the visits need to be constructed in such a way that they are truly ‘pastoral’. Of course, it will begin with asking how people are – ‘Where are you on a scale of 1 – 12 (with 1 being ‘on the floor’ and 12 being ‘swinging from a chandelier). No doubt it will include some reflection on the present lockdown. But it also needs to include a verse or two of Scripture (perhaps from one of the day’s lectionary readings?), with a ‘comment’ relevant to the person or family, followed by a prayer.
- This general ‘visiting’ would be in addition to the inevitable ‘crisis’ visiting:: for example, where there is a death, a number of ‘visits’ by phone would need to be made, some perhaps of thirty minutes in length.
At this time of the coronavirus pandemic, people need to know they are loved – and in particular to know that they are loved by God. Although preaching has its place, pastoral care – expressed through ‘visiting’ by phone’ – is the most effective way of communicating that love. So let’s use the phone!