Visiting an Ill Church Member

People who are ill at home, in the hospital, and in nursing homes need care far beyond medical attention. Especially at this time of year, we can find ourselves in hospital elevators or pulling into unfamiliar driveways to offer a kind word and warm presence. Before you visit, though, consider the following suggestions.

hands_3501. Always call before you visit. Even in rural and informal settings, there are too many unpleasant surprises and awkward possibilities for the family and caregiver. For example, you may find someone so ill that they need no visitors; you may come during a mealtime; you may find the person sleeping, not needing to be disturbed; or you may find only one person at home, creating a delicate situation if they are of the opposite gender.

2. Calling ahead is also good use of your time because you can avoid an unnecessary trip. If calling on the telephone is not an option, always respect the family’s privacy by asking questions like these before you enter the home: “Is this a good time to visit?” “Would you rather I come by another time?” “When is the best time for visitors?” Sometimes a quick visit at the door provides all the information you need for rescheduling, and your mere presence communicates your interest.

3. Only carry flowers if you know the parishioner has no breathing problems. Only carry food if you know ahead of time that it will be appreciated. Only stay longer than fifteen minutes if the person you are visiting is anxious and truly desires to talk longer about a concern.

4. Make sure that you position yourself in a way that makes it easy for a bedridden person to see and talk with you. Avoid getting close to the bed or jarring a recovering surgery patient.

5. Offer to shake hands or touch only after you know that it will neither hurt nor bother the patient. Be aware of sore arms from IVs.

6. If a patient whispers, they may have a sore throat from tubes placed in the mouth during procedures. Be considerate and don’t overwhelm them with questions they feel obligated to answer.

7. If a sick parishioner invites you to stay longer when you prepare to leave, consider it a gesture of kindness on their part, but don’t linger. Sick or recovering patients often don’t realize how tiring a visit is until it ends.

8. If you are comfortable doing so, offer to pray as you conclude your visit. Focus on the patient’s needs, avoid long prayers and “empty phrases” (Matthew 6:5-7), and ask the parishioner if there is anything they would like for you to pray about.

9. Before you leave, ask if there is anything you can do for them—an errand, a message, a favor, a call, etc.

10. Make sure someone at the church office knows that you visited and knows what you learned about the patient’s needs and preferences. This information will help them schedule other visits.

This article is an excerpt from Crisis Ministry: A Handbook by Daniel G. Bagby.

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