Friday, January 07, 2011

Guideline for visiting church member who is sick at home

I am attempting to draft a guideline on what to watch out for during home visit to church member who is physically ill. I am writing this because having been trained for parish ministry in a seminary, having visited many patients as a chaplain intern and having received many well-intentioned home visits, I am in a unique place to suggest a guideline. My suggested guideline is not meant to be authoritative, but only as a suggestion on what home visit is all about. I hope we can benefit from giving constructive feedback to each other.

1) AIM
I believe the basic aim of home visit is to provide spiritual care to the afflicted and bereaved. Some people believe providing spiritual care is the domain of ministers only. However, according to Kate Braestrup, a warden chaplain,  she is convinced every human being is called to be "the love in the vulnerabilities of human’s fragile existence." In other words, home visit is an attempt by a human being to be the love in the vulnerabilities of human's fragile existence for another human being.

I identify four different ways of relating to the physically ill:
2.1) Doctor/patient relation: In this relationship, the medical professional empowers the patient to make decision.
2.2) Priest or pastor/parishioner: The priest listens to the confession of the parishioner and proclaims God's forgiveness. Or the pastor opens the Bible after listening to the parishioner and proclaims God's assurance from the Bible.
2.3) Fully clothed human being with an fully clothed human being (figuratively speaking): Two human beings aware of their social status, of their power relation to each other, and conditioned to behave in ways expected of them.
2.4) Naked human being with another naked human being (figuratively speaking): Two human beings aware of their vulnerabilities and relate to each other as two human beings. They trust each other, are honest with their emotions and empathize with each other.

Among the four ways narrated above, I think the most beautiful one is the last one. I would suggest during home visit, one should strive to be fully present as a human being to each other, and inviting God to be in the midst. This picture is like being back in garden Eden where Adam and Eve were relating to each other as full human being and with God in their midst before the Fall.

4) DOs and DON'Ts during home visit
Having outlined the basic principle of an ideal home visit, I would suggest the following DOs and DON'Ts during home visit:
4.1) Do be fully present and minimize all types of distraction. Off your handphone or leave it in silent mode.
4.2.) If you function together as a team, do pray together with your team mate before the visitation so that your heart can be quieted down, and you may be more aware of God's presence.
4.3) Do stay with the visited person's emotions and feelings, while continuing to be sensitive to how God is present in the midst. It is helpful to learn paraphrasing the person's words and to imagine yourself in the person's shoes. Ask the person whether he/she is feeling so and so, rather than assuming. Make intentional effort to invite God into the conversation. It is absurd to talk about food, weather, church admin matter, and other non-related stuff, before ending with a prayer to conclude the visit.
4.4) Do be honest with your own emotions. If you don't know how to help the person, just say it. Don't assume you know everything. If you are feeling sad, be honest about it as well. It is more authentic for you to identify your own emotions, and to be able bring them before God. It is all right to pray "God, we come before you with our ignorance and anxiety" or "God, I don't know how to pray for our dear brother/sister, but I know your love is ever present with us."
4.5) Assuming you have a team mate, do gather feedback on how you can be more present for the other. Home visit is not a check list. It is an invitation to be fully present with another human being who is just as vulnerable as you are, with God in the midst. Your team mate should be mature and one whom you can trust deeply. If you work alone, and are keen to know whether you were present, recall the reaction of the visited person, and if you are diligent enough, write a verbatim on the visit.
4.6) Don't bring too many people than is necessary. The more people there are, the more energy the visited person need to invest in order to concentrate. As all attention will be focused on the visited person, he/she will be exhausted by too many people.
4.7) Don't overstay your visit. When I first started off as a chaplain intern, I thought the longer the stay, the higher quality is the visit. When I examined this assumption, I realized it was due to my lack of security. The longer the stay, the more tired the visited person. I would suggest keeping home visit to an hour time frame.
4.8) Don't plan a home visit if you are not ready. If you are heavily preoccupied with a family quarrel or a squabble with your colleague or boss, or are tight pressed against a deadline, you are more likely to be distracted. Settle what you need to settle first in order to be fully present. If you are emotionally hurt, nurse your wound first. Some visits may open a deeper wound.

Thus ends my list. In the New Testament, Jesus expects his church to feed and to provide water to the hungry and thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and to visit those in prison (Matt 25:35-6). Whatever we did for the least of those among us, we are doing it for Christ (Mt 25:40). I pray and hope that you will be blessed in the same way the visited person is blessed by you through your visit. May God's Spirit sensitize you to God's presence and reunite all of us in Jesus Christ. 

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