My church has two systems in place by which every household in the congregation should be ensured regular (monthly at least) contact with the congregation, through “Visiting” (women) and “Home” (men) “Teachers.” The presidents of the men’s and women’s auxiliary organizations put together partnerships for these visits, and assign a small “route” of two to six households for regular visiting and leaving a short spiritual message.
In an ideal world, this pastoral care program creates a network withing the congregation, and helps forge friendships and caring relationships, through which the auxiliary leaders and clergy can help ensure temporal and spiritual needs are being met.
(Okay, that whole sentence sounds like weasel-words for a very creative spy network. We’re not training in espionage, I promise. And even if it is a little espionage-y, it’s espionage with love.)
My Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow does not attend my church, and terms the whole thing the “Insta-Friends Network.” That’s a bit more like it. If our family needs some help moving things, or hauling yard debris to the waste pit, I call the Home Teachers and they show up with a group of fellow Home Teachers or some very nice teenage guys, and help us get it done. When we add a baby, my Visiting Teachers activate The Network, and several nights of very tasty meals are delivered to us, along with offers to do laundry, or vacuum, or take the Littles off on a play date, or drive the Bigs to their activities. Those are the obvious aspects.
The less-obvious aspects are pretty important. Those come when we’re overwhelmed by a medical or emotional need, and the Home Teachers come in to place a blessing on an individual, or on our home. They come when I’m having a hard day, and my Visiting Teacher calls or emails to say, “Hey, I was thinking of you.” (Or better yet, drops off a treat!)
They come when a Home or Visiting Teacher works out that a family has been out of work for six months, and Mom & Dad’s faces are looking a little grim, and Christmas is coming… and that’s when a quiet word in the Bishop’s ear brings about the family being adopted for a Twelve Days of Christmas, asked to participate in a service project to lift their spirits, and a loving offer of assistance with food or bills.
They come when assigned “Teachers” are given inspiration, that quiet word is passed along, and the congregation rallies around a family to provide emotional support in difficult times. I’ve seen it work, through pastoral and professional counseling, through providing household goods after a fire, and even down to a congregationally-supported wedding for a sweet young couple determined to marry within the Church. (I volunteered to do the bride’s alterations on that one, and she was a delight!)
I’m a hermit by nature, and do not really care for assigned friends. Even though I understand and appreciate the purposes of the program, I chafe against it. I don’t like being in an assigned partnership, I don’t like trotting around to visit other people once a month, I don’t like “getting to know” people. I am beginning to understand my hermit Grandfather, who really did love to be of service, but preferred to stay on his mountain, in his cabin, to do it. I don’t necessarily enjoy people coming to *my* house, either. Even my very best friends call ahead to make sure it’s a “social” day.
It may be the names of the programs that really grate for me, actually. I’m big on words. Words mean things. Heck, I can’t “pass” most of those “Do you agree or disagree with this statement” psych profile tests, because words mean things, and changing one word entirely changes the meaning of the sentence, and thus, my response to it. I’m good at connotation. That means I come off like your basic serial killer on a psych profile. Being a geek is not always an easy thing.
So, the word that “gets” me in all of this is “Teacher.”
If pastoral watch-care is the point, if the desire is to foster relationships, encourage one another, bear one another’s burdens, then why emphasize “teaching?”
Using the term “teacher” automatically puts the visiting duo in a superior role, with the visitee a subordinate. It connotes a passing along of wisdom or skill (which is not always the case, as ideally every congregant will participate in the program, and not everyone is a master theologian or scriptorian or even a terribly likable person.)
If I could communicate one good idea to the church leadership, I’d communicate this one: Visiting Sisters and Visiting Brothers.
The change in terminology re-emphasizes our relationships as brothers and sisters through Christ. Sibling relationships, rather than teacher-student relationships, are more open and variable. There is allowance for radically different perspectives, with no judgement (how many of us are really comfortable with disagreeing with our “teacher”?
(Okay, I am pretty darn comfortable disagreeing with a teacher, but I’m more than normally rebellious about a lot of little things, and getting spikey looks from a person I dislike is kind of a reward in my book. I know. It’s not terribly healthy or mature. I’m working on it.)
We already refer to one another as Brother and Sister within the church, so it’s a completely familiar term. Emphasizing the familial bond of all God’s children feels… warmer, perhaps. Less formal, more loving.
(And, Visiting Sisters and Visiting Brothers sound oh-so-vaguely Catholic to me, as if we were all a bit consecrated, and that’s an attractive connotation to me. There are benefits to being raised in a devout, but religiously open, household.)
(The second thing I would bring up, if I could communicate a good concept to the leadership of the Church, is that they *need* me to come in an take over all historical clothing and tourism pushes for the pre-1870 time period, because I could totally fix the current problems…. but that’s a whole ‘nother blog, and a whole ‘nother Plan to Take Over the World.)