Tips for Making a Hospital Visit

Our new church is putting to me to work! Upon completing a recent spiritual gift inventory for those interested in membership, it became evident that I have a passion for Bible teaching. So, I have been enlisted to teach a weekly small group this Lenten season on the two Great Commandments of "loving God and loving our neighbors." Then, when the staff found out that I had retired after serving some 45 years in pastoral ministry, they have also invited me to serve as a volunteer on their hospital visiting team. Now, I have been "in the hospital" numerous times over my adult years both as a patient and a visitor. As you might expect, I prefer visiting others over being a patient! My family can attest and have said about me, "He's not very patient being a patient!"

After a recent orientation meeting with one of the church pastors, I received my specific assignment to visit fellow members who are hospitalized each Friday. The church's administrative assistant sends a daily email update that lists the congregants to be visited. After each contact, a digital report is to be filed that may be viewed by pastoral staff and hospital volunteers to enhance ministry efforts and communication. Springfield is blessed to be home to two excellent regional hospitals that cover almost any illness for any age-group. I feel privileged to serve as a volunteer visitor and offer presence, comfort, encouragement and a prayer for both patients and their families during a brief weekly visit.

You do not need to be ordained or have seminary training to be effective as a volunteer hospital visitor. However, it does help to be mentored by a seasoned visitor. I learned to visit the hospitals by accompanying my pastor as he made his weekly rounds. I saw him in action as he showed caring concern to those of our church who were dealing with the pain, anxiety, loneliness, and discouragement that often comes with physical, emotional or mental set-backs that necessitate hospitalization.

What are some suggestions to remember when making an effective hospital visit?
1. Be personable and polite. Introduce yourself, provide a church business card and wear a badge when available. Call the person by name.
2. Offer presence ministry. Words are important, but one's presence and hopeful demeanor are just as important. Be sincere. Smile. Listen. Be friendly, interested and caring. You may want to start with a question like, "What kind of day are you having?" Show empathy.
3. Observe appropriate brevity. Most visits should not exceed ten minutes. You will most likely stand at the foot of the bed where you can make good eye contact. (Do not sit on the bed or even accidentally bump the bed during your visit.)
4. Pray for them. Ask permission to offer a short prayer. I have only been denied this privilege a handful of times over 45 years. Most people will want you to pray and will not feel that the visit is complete without it.
5. Close by asking if there is anything you can do for them. Most of the time, they will say everything is okay, but on occasion, you will be asked to seek out the nurse for a practical need like more ice water, an extra pillow to prop them or the like.

Specifically, with regard to praying, I like to take the patient's hand and gently hold it or touch the back of it lightly at the time of prayer. During your prayerful remarks, ask God to comfort and give strength to the patient (use their name) while affirming a Bible promise. It can sound as simple as this, "Heavenly Father, You promised to 'keep us in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You' (Isaiah 26:3); "Lord, thank you for promising that, 'You will meet our needs according to Your glorious riches in Christ Jesus'" (Philippians 4:19); or "Lord, thank you for being such a 'Good Shepherd who knows us' (John 10:14) that we can say, 'I have everything I need'" (Psalm 23:1).

The goal or objective as a caring Christ-follower is to engage in "incarnational ministry." This means to embody, in flesh or in person, the love of Christ for those in need. A favorite hymn reminds us, "Let others see Jesus in you!" As always, we should make every effort through our encouragement and affirmation to leave the friends and patients we visit feeling better after having been with them.

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com

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