Shut-Ins/Pastoral Visitations

Started by LutherMan, February 01, 2013, 09:15:58 AM

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Why is it so difficult to get a pastor to visit/commune shut-ins?  I have several friends who are shut-ins, and they are seemingly ignored by their parish & pastors. In most cases they are members of the largest congregations in town?   In two cases, I have had to ask a mutual pastor friend (not from their parishes) to go see them.  One of the shut-ins was a member of a six pastor church...


"Lutherman" writes:
Why is it so difficult to get a pastor to visit/commune shut-ins? 
I comment:
It is not, or it ought not to be difficult. Call the person's pastor and explain the need.

"Lutherman" writes:
I have several friends who are shut-ins, and they are seemingly ignored by their parish & pastors. In most cases they are members of the largest congregations in town? 
I comment:
The very size of the congregation might be an impediment. Are they known to be shut-in? Have them been active? Or are they just names on a roll? Are they currently in touch with the congregation in some way? Have they themselves requested a visit? (I have gone to a "shut-in" and the response has been sort of like "what the heck are you doing here?").

"Lutherman" writes:
In two cases, I have had to ask a mutual pastor friend (not from their parishes) to go see them. 
I comment:
Did he go? If so, he acted inappropriately.

"Lutherman" writes:
One of the shut-ins was a member of a six pastor church...
I comment:
See above.

Norman Teigen

A case can be made for members of the parish to provide visitations.  Laymen/women are no substitute for pastoral visitation but can supplement the work of the pastor.  If nothing else, a member of a congregation can bring along his/her hymnbook and sing hymns.  What is more important to a Lutheran than Lutheran hymns?  What Lutheran can't sing, or read, hymns?

People shouldn't complain about pastoral visits but they should do something about it.  In my opinion, shut-in parishioners  might a pastoral visitation  once a month.  In the meantime let the members of the parish get out and do something.   The Confessions state that the Gospel is communicated in various ways, one of which is the mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren (I would add sisteren to this).

I have done this while I was a member of both LC-MS and ELS congregations.  The pastors and the ones visited appreciate this.

Norman Teigen, Layman
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Norman Teigen

D. Engebretson

It shouldn't be difficult to get a pastor to visit shut-ins.  This is a primary part of his call, namely to bring Word and Sacrament to those who cannot come to church (I commune my shut-ins on a monthly basis, which has been my practice for 25 years).  If a pastor feels overwhelmed at a parish where he seems to have too many demands, then he needs to reevaluate those demands and possibly employ the services of a retired pastor to assist.  Many parishes use retired men for this very purpose.  There are also CRM guys that could be used for such purposes, where they are available.  But to simply leave them without regular ministry is not an option, especially when there are already so many on staff. However, as indicated, it may be possible that the parish and pastors are unaware of the need and may need to be informed.  In larger parishes, especially over 1,000, it is difficult to remain as aware of everyone's immediate needs as one would like.  I know, I once pastored a church of 1,600.  If you haven't notified the pastors that these people are homebound, please do.  I would hope that they would appreciate the effort on your part. 
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI


The pastors/parishes of the shut-ins I am referring to are/were aware of their circumstances, and they are/were in care facilities.  One has recently passed away...

Dan Fienen

I do not doubt that a few pastors neglect shut-ins.  (I once had occasion on a Saturday morning to call a pastor and tell her that the husband of one of her members died, her reply was that since I was there {police chaplain from a different denomination} and had things in hand, she would get back to the member on Monday.)  That is unfortunate.

But as has been pointed out, at times other circumstances apply.  A few pastors are simply too overworked to do an adequate job.  Far more often, they simply are not asked to call so that they do not know that this is a shut-in situation rather than a delinquent member.  I once had a member complain that her husband (a nonmember) had be hospitalized and died without anyone from the church calling on him or her.  The truth was, nobody told us.  Far too often members assume we will know when there is a need, rather than asking for help that would be willingly, even eagerly given.

Pr. Daniel Fienen


If pastors are honestly and truly neglecting their duties to bring Word and Sacrament to parishioners unable to attend worship services, that is a problem.  But as swbohler notes, it is not always that simple.

Also, shut-ins and other parishioners need to understand that bringing Word and Sacrament to the shut-ins is the pastor's job; being the sole source of entertainment and/or contact with the outside world is not his job.  Most of my shut-ins are not interested in lengthy theological discussions or confession of their sins.  They simply want to chat about the weather and their grandkids and the 201st (for real) dish towel they are embroidering.  I don't mind doing this, but it certainly does not require "the pastor".  I am thinking (guessing?) that when shut-ins say "the pastor never comes to visit", often what they really mean is "no one ever comes to visit."

Personally, I brag about my nursing home peeps because most of them are still able to be up and about with the help of walkers/wheelchairs, and so they go visit each other!  This is the Body of Christ!


Quote from: LutherMan on February 01, 2013, 09:15:58 AM
Why is it so difficult to get a pastor to visit/commune shut-ins?  I have several friends who are shut-ins, and they are seemingly ignored by their parish & pastors. In most cases they are members of the largest congregations in town?   In two cases, I have had to ask a mutual pastor friend (not from their parishes) to go see them.  One of the shut-ins was a member of a six pastor church...

Many times people assume the pastor knows they want a visit without them even calling the pastor themselves.  Visitation happens when pastors not only visit on their own volition but also upon shut-ins who are pro-active about wanting be visited.


It certainly also happens that they don't remember the pastor being there, and so tell their relatives that they've not seen him. That shouldn't surprise. How many times do relatives find out that THEIR visits are not remembered either? Always best to assume the best and double check just to clarify. Ask me how I know...

Rev. Matthew Uttenreither

I've learned over the years to leave notes, bulletins, newsletters, and dating and signing my name in a guest book or calendar just to let the family and/or nursing staff I was there.  Like Fr. Weedon said, most of these people do not remember who visits them let alone how often. 

But I have also seen pastors who refuse to make calls such as shut-ins/hospitals, and not because they were too busy.  I've even heard from one pastor who has a big church that the church has more important things to do than to visit the sick/shut-in.  I've also heard another pastor say that such visits are depressing and as such ruin his idea of ministry. 

Russ Saltzman

Quote from: Rev. Matthew Uttenreither on February 01, 2013, 02:03:37 PM
I've also heard another pastor say that such visits are depressing and as such ruin his idea of ministry.

Notes From a Communion Call
August 21, 1980

   She is 86 years old and requires constant nursing care. Until her retirement she was a college professor; until her illness she led an active retirement. A major stroke some few years ago deprived her of speech by partially paralyzing her throat and facial muscles. Age, frailty, and arthritis have done the rest.
   Her niece, her only family and only marginally connected to the parish, has asked me to see her. I don't know her.
   She has great difficulty swallowing because of the paralysis. She drools continually. Her tongue lolls to one side, some portion of it always outside her mouth. She has no teeth; they were removed after the stroke to aid her swallowing. She is embarrassed by her appearance and holds a tissue to her lower face, hiding, absorbing the saliva.
   She communicates with an occasional grunt, all she can manage vocally, and laboriously writes responses and questions in a large childish hand on an oversized note pad.
   Her eyesight is poor. She writes blind, huge looping letters in a long scrawl. She can't see what she writes and I can't read it. I have to ask her to write it again, and once more, frustrated with myself that I cannot read it the first time and must ask a second and a third time.
   Her mind is active, inquisitive.
   She has numerous talking books for the blind about her room. Some, I note, are very recent titles.

   She writes and begins to weep, the soft, low animal sounds of someone deeply wounded. I can't read it. She writes it again. "I am a prisoner."
   Of what, I wonder. Her body? This nursing home?
   "I want to die," she writes. "Why won't God let me die?"
   "I don't know," and I reach for her hand.
   If I hold her hand she can't write this stuff, and I don't want to read it.

   This isn't the way shut-in calls are supposed to work.
   The mythology is, I am the one who is to go away marveling at the capacity for human faith in adversity, and the person visited is to be cheered with the comfort of the pastor's presence.
   There is nothing here at which to marvel, and poor comfort to give. All that is here is an old lady who wants to die and a pastor who doesn't know why God won't let her.
   Why won't God just let her die?

   I ask if she would like Holy Communion.
   She grunts through the tissue. I assume she means yes. I commence the ritual. We share communion. I shave a sliver of bread from the wafer and mingle it with a very small bit of wine, so she can receive without choking. I put it to her lips. She manages to swallow some.
   I feel absurd.
   What we are doing feels absurd. I am drained, exhausted after fifteen minutes with an old woman I don't know. It seems surreal, if not meaningless.
   Hurriedly, I pronounce the benediction, wondering with what degree of favor the Lord does look upon this old woman.
   The mythological piety of pastoral calling again takes over. She is now supposed to feel uplifted, her countenance transformed.
   Nothing like that happens.
   Sometimes faith is tossed into the teeth of realities we cannot fathom, and we can only hope to escape with as little damage to ourselves as possible.

   Afterward, she reaches for the pad and scrawls something I can't read. Hating myself for having to ask, I tell her to do it again. She writes "Thank you."
   I know so little about her. I know only she wants to die.
   Some many weeks later, after putting another visit off as long as I could before guilt propelled me go, I was preparing to see her again when the nursing home called.
   She had died that very morning.
   I thanked God, but I still cannot say whether it was for her or for me.

-- The Pastor's Page and Other Small Essays, ALPB, 2010
Russell E Saltzman
former editor, Forum Letter
former columnist,
Facebook: Russ Saltzman


Thank you, Pr. Saltzman. It is depressing beyond belief. That reminded me so much of Ruth. She had been left paralyzed in an auto accident that took her husband. She was a shutin the entire 20 years I was serving as pastor of St. Paul's. I buried her mom, her brothers, her son-in-law and yet still she hung on. And she only wanted to go, especially after she had to move to a nursing home. You could see the darkness simply deepening and the cold chill of death teasing, but not taking hold. I hated visiting her at the end, when she didn't even receive communion. The attempt to read a passage that could comfort fell flat. She didn't seem able to focus on anything outside whatever was going on in her mind. She wanted it to be over. Finally it was.

There are visits like that, and they're hard to make. But we still need to make them. She was one of the shutins that I most looked forward to visiting. Always bright and full of joy despite the broken body. Never complaining. I mean not even once did I hear the woman utter a complaint. Except the silence at the end that was her plea for death. She'd pray the liturgy right along with me (including the pastors parts) but not at the end. At the end just that silence and the Kyrie eleison that cried out from her eyes.



You posts are simply elegant. They should be read by every seminarian and every pastor who wonders how he got into this business.

Peace, JOHN

Eileen Smith

My pastor called me one day to say that a woman called, requesting that he visit her father, who was seriously ill and in the hospital.  My pastor didn't recognize the name and called me to ask if I could tell him anything about this member.  I didn't recognize the name either.  We looked through the membership list, a list of inactive members, and a list of members who had left the congregation - no luck.  He did visit this man and casually mentioned to the woman that there was no record of her dad.  Indignantly, she assured him that he was indeed a member.  However, he left "for a while" after a disagreement with Pastor Linzer.  Problem was - this story takes place in the late 1980's, Pastor Linzer died in the 1960's. 

Dave Likeness

One effective way to make certain there is  real
communciation about your nursing home or
hospital visits........After your visit, phone the
nearest relative and update them on your visit.
They will appreciate your concern and have the
satisfaction that their loved one was visited.

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