I have never spent a single day in my life as a patient in a hospital, but in 32 years of ministry as a pastor/chaplain, I have been to the hospital several thousand times. I consider hospital visitation a very important part of the ministry of pastoral care.
I am not a doctor or nurse, so when I make a hospital visit, I do not try to hand out medical advice, but the patient is there because of a medical issue so what, exactly, is my role?
As a minister, I am there for spiritual support/pastoral care. In my current role as a chaplain at a senior living community, I have learned that when one of our residents goes into the hospital it can be a very difficult time, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes, the patient has no family or their family cannot visit for various reasons. Things can be confusing.
I am there to pray with them and provide spiritual support in whatever way I can. Often it is not so much what I do but just the fact that I am there. At times it is simply a ministry of presence. That term or idea is not original with me but is something I have picked up along the way.
Just to be with them can make all the difference in the world. My visit reminds them they have not been forgotten by our campus staff or other residents, no matter how long they have been in the hospital. I have had residents tell me, months or even years after a hospital stay, how much they appreciate my visit with them. They may not remember anything I said or did, but they do remember I was there.
The ministry of presence is real, and it is not just for the ordained minister. It is for any believer. Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them,” (Matthew 18:20). When you visit someone in the hospital, nursing home, or in their home, your presence does make a difference for them. And the presence of the Lord will be with you both.
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 4:10-11
Written by Kevin McSpadden, chaplain at Baptist Retirement Community, a Buckner senior living community in San Angelo, Texas.