I went to see a parishioner today.
Nothing formal. No appointment. No elder to accompany me. Just me and a 93 year old man sitting in his den, chatting away.
Of all I do as a minister, I think the one thing that has changed most is the pastoral visit.
I was ordained 26 years ago, and I could get in my car and drive to Elm Street and visit seven homes in an afternoon. No appointment. No worrying about having another elder with me. We'd sit and chat, have prayer, and I'd leave to visit the next home.
Today I have to call ahead -- two or three days ahead of time. I have to get a passcode to be allowed into the gated community (I think everyone in South Florida lives in these gated communities). With luck I can visit 1 family each week.
Most of my visits today are over the telephone or via email. The real face to face visits are at lunch. This year the church gave me an extra $1,000 in my expense budget to provide for more of these meals. After church on Sundays, my wife and I can often take a visiting family out to lunch. Visitors like that -- but woe be to me if I call and ask if I can stop by their home.
Is it just South Florida, are is the whole world cocooning in their homes?
Even hospital visits have changed.
I clearly remember in the 1980s people who were having surgery would go in the day before. I'd see them in their hospital room late in the afternoon. After surgery, it would be several days before they returned home. In a church of 100 people I was at the hospital almost daily.
Nowadays, with 700 members in my church, I visit the hospital about once each month. Right now I have two in Intensive Care, but that is rare. Usually someone goes into the hospital the day of the surgery, around 6 AM, and they are out by the end of the day. I rarely see the parishioners in the hospital unless they are, as my two church members are now, in life-treatening conditions.
I miss the pastoral visits I used to do. I could get to know the parishioners and they could get to know me.