Many people—carelessly—label those in such homebound situations as “shut-in’s,” which sounds like the person is being held in their home against their will. (Presumably one could make the argument that certain illnesses do so, in a way; yet there remains a discrepancy between the person’s reality and what such a label communicates.) There are those who are homebound for short amounts of time (including those who miss worship on any given Sunday) and those who are homebound for longer periods—never able to return in the same capacity as they once did. Our culture’s solution to those who are homebound long-term, unfortunately, is to quietly sweep them under the rug—into hospitals, care facilities, or assisted-living homes—behind closed doors, where they will be out of sight and out of mind. With this view comes the assumption that we need not go out of our way and care for these people, because someone else—who is getting paid to do so—is, and will care for them. All of us are guilty of buying into this view at one time or another, hence the label: “shut-in.” Therefore, we refer to our homebound parishioners as “shut-in’s” either unaware or unconcerned with what it communicates about how we see these individuals and/or our priorities (or lack thereof) in visiting and caring for them. When someone becomes unable to attend Sunday worship, it does not mean they are released or fall away from the Body of Christ. In all of life and death, we always remain a valuable (and valued) member of the Body of Christ. If anything, those who are homebound need extra attention from us so as to feel a valuable part of our community of faith in spite of their physical absence.
The usual practice of ONLY the pastor visiting “shut-in’s” once every quarter (four times a year at best) fails to care for these people and only communicates meaningless obligation. Those absent from the Sunday assembly, in reality, need to be visited regularly to help overcome the feelings of loneliness, burden, and alienation that usually accompany this separation. Just because they cannot bring themselves or be brought by someone else to worship each week, does not mean we should negate them too. We should be intentionally visiting them with the same frequency as we would see anyone else--updating them on what’s happening at church and in the community, listening to their daily life where they are, praying with them for God’s presence with and among them, sharing in Holy Communion as both regular forgiveness and a palpable connection to our faith community, etc. These are things I try to do on the visits I make twice a month (every other week). I’m by no means saying my way is the correct, or only, way to do it. Frankly, I’m still learning on how to visit and care in meaningful ways for those who are homebound. Nevertheless, more can and should be done by us all in remaining faithful to this always-pertinent ministry of the church.
Yet, these homebound people need more than just visits from their pastor—they need to be regularly shown that same love and concern by other sisters and brothers in Christ: fellow friends and parishioners. Do you know who our homebound parishioners are? (Did you even know we have parishioners who are not in worship Sunday morning because they are homebound?) If so, do you know where they are? When was the last time you talked with or visited them? These are all questions worth asking ourselves. But none of these questions mean anything if we don’t first ask ourselves: “Would I want to be visited by fellow parishioners if I were homebound?” If the answer is yes, than you now know how others who are homebound feel. We, altogether, form the Body of Christ; and as such, we are each called to care for one another. Instead of the cop-out: “Pastor’s trying to get out of more work” what if we each took 30 minutes out of our week to swing by and visit one of our homebound parishioners. Imagine the impact that would have on that person—the love your visit would communicate with them, the demonstration of Christ’s love it would show others around you. With the season of Lent around the corner, what if this year, instead of giving something up, you took on a new practice of visiting one of our homebound parishioners once a week for the sake of building and nurturing relationships in Christ? I’ve got a list of people who would love to hear from you and visit—even if for a short while. May God fill you with a spirit of compassion and courage to go out and visit with those who are unable to join us in Sunday worship—happy visiting!