Friday, May 22, 2009

a moment

Friday again...a robin is enjoying the sunshine in a tree out by the sidewalk, and telling the world.
It wasn't QUITE so cold this morning, and hasn't snowed today -- nor yesterday, in which we had enough sun to activate possible "weather lore" about the Feast of the Ascension as a predictor for the rest of the summer...I didn't realize it's in the same list as Groundhog (Lammas) Day and St. Swithun!
Two 'congregation' yesterday for the eucharist, a bit of a chat about the meaning of the Ascension one way and another, then a long, long pastoral conversation with one of the congregants contemplating a shift of membership...annoyed and fed up with clergy in her current parish.
The ethics and etiquette of "parish visiting"...the competing rationales for "the minister calls upon the sick, the shut-in, the elderly"...
Her priest doesn't visit. She has a nonagenarian father in the local veterans' hospital/residence...physically frail but cognitively present. A founding member of the parish (and then the note I dread hearing, "and after all the money he gave"...)...and the priest has not been to visit him.
The priest is heavily involved in a community-organization movement which is sound, practical, effective, strengthens community among those who take part and strengthens the communities they form within the larger political unit. (I know this, because he recruited me...but when I could not find an energy for this work within the parish I serve, I drew back...thinking this would have to be a lay-led endeavour or nothing at all, it couldn't be "another of the rector's Lead Balloons." I still don't know whether that was right or not.
Apparently there is little energy among my colleague's congregation for lay-organized pastoral visiting either...
And it may not matter very much once the expectation has crystallized in the form, "the minister/priest should visit more..."
I don't know how to be clear in my own mind about the standing, moral and theological, of that expectation.
What is the model that is really driving that demand? And what is the model behind the way it is answered?
Ambiguity everywhere.


Song in my Heart said...

What a knotty and tangly problem... how to effectively build up community in such a way that none feel excluded?

Crimson Rambler said...

neither excluded NOR unduly "entitled"...

Song in my Heart said...

Indeed! I had not intended to imply that the attitude of entitlement you write of was justified.

The provision of financial support to ongoing upkeep or one-off projects is a considerable and important part of many communities, but it is not a substitute for other contributions; community is not something that can be bought. I make some (small) financial contributions to a number of communities, but it is because I endorse and wish to support the work that they do, not because I am paying for a service rendered. Some of these are communities that I make other contributions to, others are not. Some people in some of these communities would consider me a part of the community, others would not. Some people in some of these communities would visit me if I were housebound or hospitalised, and others would not.

I think that the difference between those who would visit me and those who would not has more to do with the individual relationships I have with those people than with my involvement in various more structured communities. Some of those friendships have arisen out of mutual participation in structured communities, some are more haphazard. I like to think I have no expectation that these friends would help me out, though there have been times when I have felt let down. I have far more frequently been very surprised by the amount of practical assistance my friends have given me, quite freely and often without being asked. It's staggering.

I think that I would calibrate my expectations of clergy visitation based on what seems normal for that community; even then, I think I would be surprised at being visited if I did not have some sort of ongoing relationship with that member of clergy. I don't know how I would feel about asking them to visit, especially in a situation where it is not the norm, but I might do so if I felt a particular need for spiritual guidance or wanted to take communion and it wasn't otherwise available through, say, a hospital chaplain. But I am not other people.

I am blessed with many friendships despite being what might be called "differently socialised". I wonder whether this nonagenarian's dissatisfaction is due to plain old loneliness, twisted up into something that can be complained about more easily. And what are our duties, as friends, community members or simply as human beings, toward those who are lonely, for whatever reason? Do their feelings of entitlement change our responsibility to provide comfort? Would this be different if their need were for enough food to eat or somewhere safe to sleep at night?

I suspect that in communities where many members have also formed personal friendships, rates of visiting among laypeople would be higher, and feelings of entitlement based on structured roles might well be lower. I wonder whether this hunch is the case; if so, how can we foster and encourage those sorts of friendships, both within religious communities and extending outward from them? And where this doesn't happen, or where people have clashing expectations of what a community or friendship ought to provide, how can we encourage change without trampling over the pain of those who feel wounded or put-upon?

All things I wonder, that's all. A tangly, knotty problem indeed.

Crimson Rambler said...

Thank you! You've put my difficulties extremely clearly!
YES...when someone calls and says, "come quick and bring the box, they've told my Mom her time is up" -- that's clear, that's straightforward, they want The Priest (any priest, really) and "I'm it"... and no matter how sad the underlying situation, it's a joy to be in a position to respond.
And I remember one old lady now gathered to her rest who called a friend (who then called the church office) to ask, "when you were sick did Anybody From That Church Come Near You?" (The capitals were audible!)
I began to visit her regularly...and early in that process she told me it had been 78 years since she'd had a "social" call from a member of the clergy. I always suspected she was just a little bit annoyed with me because she was trying for 80!!! And I had "spoilt her mad!"

Terri said...

Yes, I really dislike these situations...which leave me standing there listening and occasionnaly nodding my head....while saying not much in return...(But inside I'm thinking, "There's another nice church just down the street, maybe someone there can attend to your needs?")