Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I have been a Lutheran Pastor for more than 37 years. The first 5 years I served Trinity Lutheran Church in While Plains, and the last 32 ½ years I have been the pastor of this congregation, St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Throughout my pastoral ministry, hospital visitations have been a big part of my work. I try to visit our church members when they are hospitalized. It may be a minor medical issue. It may be a serious medical problem. Sometimes it is a happy occasion, like the birth of a baby. It may occasionally be a life-threatening situation. It may even be the final step in life’s journey.
When I was pastor in White Plains, hospital visits was a big challenge for me. Our members did not favor one hospital over another, but could be found at White Plains Hospital, St. Agnes Hospital, Westchester Medical Center, and other places around Westchester County. I would often remind my congregation that “at seminary I never took a course in ‘mind-reading” so that “if someone was in the hospital, I could not make a visit unless someone told me that they, or a family member was in the hospital.”
When I came to Middletown in 1987, things were actually much simpler, even though this congregation was 5 times larger. Almost all of our members routinely went to Horton Hospital, or Arden Hill Hospital. Each of those hospitals allowed clergy to view a “religious census list,” so I could easily find our members from the list of Lutherans. Since those two hospitals merged into the new Orange Regional Medical Center in 2011, it became even easier. Every week I go to ORMC twice (usually on Tuesdays and Fridays) and consult the census list. If you are registered as a “Lutheran” I will find you and visit.
Of course if you register as “Protestant,” “Christian,” or “None” chances are I will not find you. If you are admitted on Tuesday and leave on Thursday, I would also miss you entirely when I come back on Friday. My system has not been perfect, but it has worked reasonably well.
Now that has all changed.
Orange Regional Medical Center is no longer making that “religious census” available to clergy 24 hours a day (the reason is too sad and complicated to explain). The bottom line is this:
“If you, or someone else, do not tell me,
I might never know that you were in the hospital, and I will not be able to visit you.”
This was always the case for people who went to the hospitals in Newburgh, Warwick, Port Jervis, Monticello, or beyond. Then I always depended upon someone to tell me you were there, because I do not routinely visit those hospitals unless I know one of our flock is there. Now it will be the case here in Middletown at our own ORMC.
So I am asking, actually begging, you to tell me when you, a family member, or a church member friend is admitted to the hospital. THEN I will do my best to make a visit. You can tell me in person. You can send me an e-mail. You can leave a message on the church answering machine (I am the ONLY one who checks the messages unless I am away). You don’t need to leave any private information. You can just say “Mary Jones will be at ORMC (or another hospital) beginning on______________”
The good folks in White Plains learned to do this for me 37 years ago. Some of you already do this, but most of you do not. Please help me to continue this ministry which I do on behalf of all of you.
So why should a pastor visit members in the hospital? I like to visit our members who are admitted to the hospital (not same-day admissions) because that is part of my ministry as your pastor. I do not pry into your private medical situation, and whatever you choose to tell me will always be in confidence. I don’t usually stay too long. A little conversation, and a prayer of course, and then I will leave you alone to rest and heal. I know I miss some of you on your hospitalizations, but I do the best I can to reach out to as many of you as I can. I generally make my visits to church members and anyone else you might ask me to visit.
Now you all are going to have to help me. I need you to tell me when you, a family member, or a church friend is hospitalized. Only then will I be able to respond with a visit.
The Bible talks about the importance of prayer, and the New Testament in particular talks about ministry to the sick. After the resurrection of Our Lord, and after the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the disciples of Our Lord were busy doing the ministry He trained them to do. Part of that ministry was prayer and care for those who were ill. If we believe in prayer, and I know we do, then prayer for the sick is critical. That not only means prayers for the sick on Sunday morning, but prayers with the sick whenever possible.
So my hope, and my prayer, is that all of you will help me in this ministry, especially as it relates to our most local and frequently used hospital. Your help will be greatly appreciated and will help me do the work I was called to do.
Pastor Rustico +