People ask me why I love to visit church folks so much. It’s not really something that’s been done for many generation. As far as I know only two colleagues visit every household in their congregation and both are now retired. I suspect part of the aversion to this practice comes from its reputation. Years ago a Minister would visit the family home, he (it was usually a he then) would be escorted to a sitting room where he would be served tea and the conversation would be on holy matters and conclude with a reading of scripture and a prayer. There was merit to this practice, it made prayer a normalized activity, it made “holy talk” a normalized activity and it brought the Minister into regular contact with the congregation.
This is not how I visit. I prefer an informal gathering, usually around a kitchen table. The conversation usually begins with where folks are from (how Maritime of me!), how they came to Halifax, what they have been involved with, and their children, if they have any. In these conversations almost always there appear “moments” when a parent discloses that a son or daughter lives with mental illness, that there was a suicide in the family some time ago, that there was a painful divorce, an estrangement or a loss. I do not react to these disclosures with any surprise or shock. They are part of life. I ask only how people are coping, where they find support, how I might be helpful (how very male of me, fixer that I am!).
I visit for many reasons. It helps to get to know what is on the minds and hearts of people who come to church for some reason. What is that reason? It helps me to know what concerns about the church people have. It helps me to know what questions people have about organized religion, faith, belief, Christianity. I don’t claim to have all or most of these answers, but knowing the questions is helpful to how as I plan worship, design studies. Just hearing the comments stick in my mind, when I am writing the sermons it keeps me from preaching to myself, those who already agree with me.
It also helps me when the Nominating Committee calls and want to know whom they might approach for various committees. The visits usually bring out interests, passions, gifts, that the church can tap into. I usually pepper the Nominating Committee with suggestions.
But the most important reason I visit is…resiliency. People despair, stress gets to us, we are anxious and we worry how we will cope with our challenges. Hearing stories of how people make sense of their complicated lives, the choices they make, the support they find, the paths that lead to some peace of mind, this is inspiring to me. I don’t share the details, names, etc…of what I hear but I do point to the sources of support and hope that help people come to grips with their lives. I am uplifted and strengthened by what I see and hear.
Not everyone finds a “magic bullet” that gets them through the crisis. Some linger, remain and get stuck. I’ve been there, I get it. Being with people in those moments is a form of solidarity. Sometimes we don’t need to fix or mend or heal, we just sit with each other. Sometimes that is all we can do.
But sitting with requires being there, being present. And that is why I visit.