One question that many Baptist pastors are asking since the Stay at Home direction by the Victorian State Government (31/3/2020) is, “Can I pastorally visit people from my congregation in person?” Is it okay to meet with a couple, a family, or a person needing care at this time? How can pastors respond to those needing pastoral care?
When it comes to providing guidelines for the public, the Government of Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services website states the following in response to the question, “Can I have visitors in my home?”
No. Social visits from friends and family increase the risk of spreading coronavirus. Every interaction with another person carries the risk of transmission and should be avoided. You should not have visitors and in turn, you should not visit the homes of others during the Stay at Home direction.
Of course, you can welcome a visitor into your home when they are providing you with care and support when you are unwell, disabled, elderly or pregnant. (Victoria State Government, 2020)
What does this mean for pastors?
- You are not to visit people socially during the Stay at Home direction
- If there is no particular reason why you must visit in person you are not to visit.
- If the person needs you to provide pastoral care for them, then you are able to, with care, however this would only be permissible if no other options are available.
- If you do visit a person in their home, think very carefully before visiting the elderly. If deemed absolutely necessary to visit please ensure that you maintain appropriate physical distancing and sanitisation measures. Phone before you visit and only visit if invited.
It is important for Victorian Baptist pastors to remember that while visitation is now severely limited, there are still so many ways to provide pastoral care. Here are the most effective ways to care for God’s people through this COVID-19 crisis.
1. Go old school!
- Pick up the phone and call people. This is a way to say, “I’m here, we care and God cares.” A simple phone call helps people know that they are not forgotten. Why not ask your leaders to help you contact people too so that everyone gets a phone call during this period when we are largely staying at home. Here is a simple template you can encourage them to use when calling. Don’t forget that you can use your phone to send encouraging texts too.
- Why not recruit a team who could put together and deliver a bag of small gifts with a card to the door of the most isolated and vulnerable in the church?
2. Go new school!
- Connect online. You can video call people and pastorally care for others from your own home office. This is a great way to care.
- If your church usually has people meeting in small groups, encourage the leaders to keep meeting with their small group on-line. Many people are using Zoom, Facebook or other options where people can see each other face to face. You may need to email “how to” tutorials to help people learn how to use these platforms for video calls.
3. Go all out!
- Is now the time to start a service on-line?
- There are so many great stories and resources on our website for churches, both large and small, who are trying new ways of connecting with and caring for their congregation. Read how Essendon and Wangaratta Baptist Churches got their services on-line quickly and relatively cheaply in our April issue of TOGETHER – Good News Stories.
- Read how Rise at Carlton is seeking to connect with their community when many of their people don’t have computers or smart phones.
- Could you help your church host a daily Facebook Live, Zoom, etc. devotional where you share and invite people’s responses? These would be a great encouragement to people who are on their own.
Over these last weeks, we have seen Baptist churches all over Victoria overcoming the unique challenges we are currently facing to keep loving one another and building each other up. May God continue to give pastors creativity and courage as you lead our churches to love in unprecedented ways during this crisis.
Rev Jonathan Stark
Head of Pastoral Leadership, Support and Development