Pastoral Care — We’re Still Here

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Rev. Raymond Hylton,
FPCE Senior Pastor.

Dear friends,

Since our Session’s prudent decision to suspend in-person worship and have staff work from home because of COVID-19, our pastoral care rituals and routines are no longer the same.

The last time I walked the floors of a hospital, a nursing home, or made a visit to someone’s house was about six months ago. Hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes have, understandably, altered the traditional ways that clergy engage with our congregants’ sickness and death.

Since March of this year, two members of our staff lost family members, three special members of our beloved congregation have died, and some in our church lost fathers and mothers. They did not all die from complications related to the virus, but the threat of infection impacted our ability to support and care for these families.

For example, as the infection rate spreads and death toll mounts, large-scale funerals and memorial services are not possible, and the accompanying visitations and other processes surrounding a loved one’s death are now usually limited to a gathering of one or two family members.

Like so much in this pandemic, it remains unclear how long restrictions will continue and what lasting effects they may have on grieving families and church communities.

Scholars who study end-of-life rituals worldwide say grieving practices are crucial for individuals’ mental and spiritual health after a loss. In response to current stark realities, our church and pastoral care teams strive to be creative and appropriately responsive to our families at First Pres, however we can. We are committed to providing meaningful pastoral care while adhering to health guidelines from the CDC and other state and local mandates.

Lately, for instance, we are posting in our weekly newsletter expanded information giving thanks to God for the deceased person’s life and service to God and our church. We plan to do this for every member of our church who has passed on to the Church Triumphant.

If you do choose to have an on-site service, your pastors are available, but, of course, CDC guidelines would restrict how many can attend.

In our new virtual scheme, we are using technology in ways never before imagined for our community. We now stream weddings and worship services. Recently, over 55 people gathered on Zoom to remember Peggie Robinson and her family. Again, as we develop new ways to respond to families facing loss, we want to offer these various pastoral care services to every church member in need.

Last Monday night, I commissioned seven new Stephen Ministers and two Stephen Leaders (We will be sharing more details about this event in the coming weeks). Our Stephen Ministers are here for you, in times you may find yourself in the “Valley of the Shadow.”

Our Deacons are active. The ministry of Friends in Christ has changed dramatically in this time, offering short-term assistance for practical needs. The Counseling Center is still taking calls, and your parish nurse and pastors are here for you.

We have a COVID-19 Taskforce working hard to develop best practices that position our church to respond to a variety of needs within the church and the community.

All this being said, may I myself make a request of you?:  If you are going through a difficult time — someone in your family is sick, or has died — please let us know. We are committed to standing with you in prayer and other, tangible ways.

Scripture calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). We will not allow this virus to stop us from being the hands and feet of Christ for each other.

Faithfully,

Pastor Ray