CLERGY MALPRACTICE AND THE DIACONATE

The following article by this website's editor appeared in The Episcopalian (November, 1989).

In my opinion

NEGLECT OF THE HOMEBOUND IS CLERGY MALPRACTICE

by Richard T. Nolan

     Having served a small congregation as its part-time vicar for 14 years, I am aware firsthand of the many demands placed on parish clergy. I also understand well that each of us has particular strengths and priorities.

     One area of ministry that can easily be left for next week is Communion and pastoral visitations for the homebound elderly. When the 96-year-old grandmother of a priest died, he wrote to his mother's vicar with a request for a pastoral visitation, since his aged mother lives quite a distance from her family. No visit was made; the vicar was contacted by letter again, and no reply was forthcoming - perhaps he was too busy with his very active servanthood in the community beyond the parish. A change in parishes resulted

     The priest's 80-year-old mother, now in fair health but for the most part homebound, values highly the monthly home Communion in her apartment. What she doesn't know is that her ordained son has to prod the clergy to make the visit. At one time he cancelled her pledge, which seemed to motivate some visits and resulted in a restored pledge. This month he will make no pledge offering on her behalf, because her rector explained he keeps having things come up and the one, new lay eucharistic minister in this parish of 900 is too busy studying for his diaconal examinations to get to her even monthly.

     The priest-son is horrified by this pastoral neglect. As one Episcopalian said to him, "If a priest can't obtain pastoral care for his elderly mother, what chance do the rest of us have?"

     What the Episcopal Church does not realize is that, apart from an occasional pledge offering withheld, it has lost a substantial family bequest. Although ministry is not purchased, contributions to the Church need not be unconditional when persistent malpractice is evident.

     All the theologizing in the world about love, stewardship, and outreach does not replace ministry due individual parishioners from clergy or laypersons. Clergy above accountability invite neglected persons within their congregations to withdraw from the life of the Church spiritually, emotionally, and financially. They need to be reminded, "do not forget the trust of those who have chosen you. Care alike for young and old...." (BCP, p. 557; similar to pp. 531 and 543). They need to be told that their neglect in providing ordained or lay ministry may have many consequences, short- and long-term.

ADDENDUM (April, 2000)

     "A point often missed today in the Church in reference to Jesus' command to love is that the New Testament emphasis regarding the love Christians are to have towards others is on their love for fellow members of the Christian community. When Christians are genuinely concerned to love one another, this love overflows into the world and the world is drawn to seek the source of such love." - from James M. Barnett, The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order, p. 19.

ADDENDUM (May, 2000)

     "Without doubt, the church's diaconate was developed in response to specific needs within the corporate life of the church itself." (M. Shepherd, Jr., "Deacon" in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible , Vol. A-D, p. 786.)

     "Thus the word [deacon] takes on the sense of loving action for others, especially in the community of faith........" (D. L. Akin, "Deacon, Deaconess" in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 150.)