Posts Tagged hospitalization

Church Absence In The Darkest Hours

Hospital

I spoke with my sister, a Catholic grade school principal in California, and a former assistant Archdiocese superintendent.

“Is this just something that evangelical churches are really bad at?”, I queried.

I was sharing with her the story of one of the families we serve who had a child hospitalized, yet again.  This family had had contact with 3 people from their church, 2 of whom were on staff, as they rushed their daughter for another serious inpatient stay.  Despite these key people knowing of their dilemma, no one from their congregation came to be with them in the hospital or pray with them.  The family never made the church prayer chain or even received a card from their church home.  The family was understandably upset, feeling abandoned in one of their darkest hours.

“No,” my sister assured me, “It’s NOT just an evangelical church problem.  It really depends on the pastor.  Some pastors are great at remembering to make hospital visits, and some avoid it at all costs.  I worked with a pastor who saw the serious need, and was dedicated to making sure his parishioners were seen, but that came to a halt when he retired.  His replacement, who worked side-by-side with him in the years he was there, was horrible.  I often had to do visits or people would be neglected.”
We wrestled with why such an obvious, basic need of the local church would be so recklessly abandoned by Christian churches of every denomination.  After all, Jesus made this one of his main ministries.  Here is what we came up with:

  • When a family has a member with a disability or special need, their hospitalization and medical crises are chronic.  They face challenges over a long period of time.  Pastors can develop “compassion fatigue” like any other human.  In other words, every human, even those in typical ministry, can tire of dealing with another person’s endless health issues.
  • People assume the hospital chaplain will handle ministering to the family.  What local churches may not realize is that there has been a movement away from faith intimacy in hospital chaplains, instead emphasizing a “ministry of presence” with families.  This is done so that a Christian chaplain can minister to a Muslim family or a Jewish rabbi can serve a Christian patient.  While the “ministry of presence” is vitally important, these types of visits from strangers are not as faithfully intimate as those from our own church family.
  • Sick people scare others, including pastors.  People who don’t have the stomach for needles, blood or other bodily fluids, hospital smells, or even psychological institutions have an extremely hard time overcoming those aversions.  They may never be able to handle such things.  This amounts to rendering these particular individuals unavailable for meeting this critical need.
  • Attempts at educating pastors in this area of service are rare and moving at a painfully slow rate.  We, leading in special needs ministry, know of the great void in seminary training for pastoral care.  Yet, there are simply not enough of us to ramp up or execute this part of these would-be church leaders’ education at this time.  This leaves the void unfilled while the need continues to grow.

These are likely only a few of the main reasons this type of neglect occurs in the darkest hours of those living with disability or special needs.  Nevertheless, with what we have identified here as obstacles, we can create an action plan to deal with this deficit in pastoral care.  See if you might add to these suggestions:

  1. Put a recommended protocol in place for churches of every kind to replicate when a member is hospitalized.  This should include having a pastoral care team, not just dumping the task on one pastor or staff member.  It should also include the practice of having people contact the church office if they know of a member or attendee who is hospitalized.  It should not be assumed that a family member has called, because they may likely be too taxed with dealing with the family member in need to make such a call.  Training church members to merely ask, “Can I contact the church for you?”, can be such a tender act of kindness.
  2. Identify church members who have that gift of tenderness, empathy, caring and prayer, who might be willing to make such visits.  A congregation should never stop recruiting or training in this area.  The American Association of Christian Counselors is just one source for solid training of lay leaders in pastoral care.  Many denominations also have their own training programs in place.  These classes are something that should routinely be on the calendar of local congregations, so that pastoral care is never neglected, regardless of who is moving in or out of leadership.
  3. Teach pastors and staff to regularly ask families with a member who has special needs, “How are you all doing?” or “Is there anything we can be doing for you?”.  This acknowledges the chronic struggle of dealing with disability, and renders a great sense of caring to those who are living with such challenges.  While many pastors may not be inclined to ask such questions for fear that they may not be able to meet such needs, they should rest assured that it is not nearly as complicated or demanding as they might think.
  4. Pray.  This work can seem futile if we rely on our own power to accomplish it.  But when we pray, God works.  Ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers.  Implore the Holy Spirit to soften hearts, open minds, and impart wisdom to local churches.  Pray that no family would feel abandoned or walk away from the church because they were not ministered to in their time of greatest need.  Cry out for a Body of Christ that would be motivated to face their fears head on, get dirty doing the difficult work that Jesus did, and make lasting change in His name.

What would you add to this list?  Please add to this discussion, because families in need of pastoral care amidst a life of unique challenges are desperate for this to change.  Their hope is hanging on evidence that Someone truly cares!

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Loving the Unloved

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Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”  ~ Mother Teresa

I watched her, alone, as others had parades of relatives visiting, colorful balloons and get well wishes as they faced one of life’s scariest moments for a child.  Nurses fawned over the other kids, littler, cuter, more worthy in their minds of the extra attention they engendered.  Yet, she was treated like she was burdensome, not supposed to be there, annoying.  No one from the church or school visited or initiated contact to see how she was doing.  She sat there in the hospital alone, only to be discharged to the same isolation afterwards at home.

Her sin?  Being on the autism spectrum, having sensory processing issues and social deficits.  Because she’s been treated like a “bad kid” by administrators at school who don’t understand her, she doesn’t garner the same warm kindness that is meted out to other students in her class who are hospitalized.  Her family sits solitary, treated like bad parents by those making wild, inaccurate assumptions.  It’s one of life’s crueler realities in a society banging the drum  of “tolerance”.

How do I know about this little girl?  She’s my 11 year old daughter.

When God brings our family through yet another trial, I always watch for what He is trying to teach or reveal to me in the storm.  With our daughter’s most recent hospitalization, the Lord exposed to me all of the precious little ones like her who are never loved on, never supported by the world around them.  It broke my heart, not just for my own child, but for the thousands of children like her in this nation.

While many, MANY people were generous to us with their prayer support (no small thing in my estimate), I couldn’t help but think of how this sentiment would be received by a non-believer.  If there was 1 kind act for every 100 promises of prayer, that would be a lot.  The Book of James, Chapter 2 talks extensively about acts of kindness being true evidence of a Christian’s faith.  In verses 15-17 James pens, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  When measured against that Word, most Christians would sadly disqualify themselves as true believers.  Busy-ness is usually our excuse.  Yet, we seem to forget the old adage that “Many hands make light work.”  While churches are terrific at preaching, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”, practicing that level of faith may be quite another thing.

It begs the question, What are churches doing to connect and communicate with hospital chaplains?  How is the Body of Christ supporting those families who are treated like their child is unworthy of love, life or attention?  Children on that Autism Spectrum or behaviorally thought of as “oddballs” by the culture?  How does all of this square with the Gospel?

In the ministry I have the privilege of leading, we have a core focus of compassion.  But we are just one.  It’s a “feel good” photo opportunity for us to have VBS, camps and parties for kids with special needs.  Even secular groups like to get good press doing that.  But what about loving the least of God’s children, affirming life under the radar in situations where no on else shows up?  Rolling up our sleeves and getting dirty in the places others consider ugly?  THIS is where Christ calls His church to serve.  And if we’re not going there, we’re no difference than the godless world we are attempting to evangelize.

What is your ministry doing to reach families in crises like the one described above?  We would love to hear…

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

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