“Pastor, I haven’t seen ‘So-And-So’ in worship for quite a few weeks now. Do you know if everything is okay with him/her/them?” I can’t tell you how many times I have parishioners ask me this question about someone they regularly see in worship, share the Peace, and gather at the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion. The question is born out of care and concern for a member of the body of Christ. While I don’t ask, I suspect it is so when they pray they would know to include the person(s) if they are ill or going through a difficult time that prevents them from gathering with the faith community.
Sometimes I know the answer as to why they’ve not been in worship. They had surgery and are still recovering at home. They are traveling. They got a new job that requires them to work on Sunday. All of their children’s sports games were scheduled for Sunday morning. Sometimes I’m in the dark as much as the inquirer and realize someone needs to reach out to them and ask if all is well. The question is, “Who?”
If we were playing Family Feud and 100 people surveyed gave their answer to the question of who should call when a parishioner hasn’t been seen for a while I would imagine the number one answer would be “Pastor”! And while it is important for the pastor to know the welfare of congregation and those who may be in need of pastoral care there are also benefits from the call coming from one who sits in the pews. We want our pastor to be concerned for our well-being and contact us when we’ve been absent for some time. Parishioners have also shared how much more meaningful that contact is when it comes from another person in the congregation. When we are part of a team, club, or community our value and importance in that group is conveyed more deeply when a member of the group calls than when the leader is the only one who calls.
However, when I ask parishioners if they would call and find out if everything is okay with So-And-So they sometimes respond, “Well, I don’t want them to think I’m judging them for not being here” or “I don’t know them that well enough to call.” In other words, they fear their calling would be perceived by the other person as one of condemnation rather than caring concern. Rather than perceiving it as “checking in” on them out of loving concern it might be misconstrued as “checking up” on them as to their absence in worship. At the same time I’ve had parishioners who were absent from worship for several months for one or more reasons that shared how upset they were that no one from the congregation ever called to see how they were doing. I call it the “Catch-22 of Congregational Care.”
So here is my suggestion and advice. If you haven’t seen someone in worship for more than a month or two, either because you or they weren’t in worship, CALL THEM! We have directories available and an Instant Church Directory application for smartphones that provide the most up to date contact information of the congregation. Don’t know their last name? Ask me. I will. Don’t remember their first name, but know where they usually sit? Ask me. I have a fair idea of where everyone sits in this church. And when you call all you need to do is begin with these two lines. “Hello, this is ______ and I’ve missed being with you in worship for the last few weeks. I’m calling just to see if everything’s okay.”
And if you get one of those calls I hope you hear it with the care and concern from which it is born. “You are a member of the body of Christ and we aren’t whole without you. You are missed and your welfare is our concern.” It is my hope we can become an even more connected congregation by our intentional acts of care and concern toward our neighbor, including those we haven’t seen for a while. As we journey together may the peace of Christ be with us.