Pastoral care with Duo, a meaningful connection

August 13, 2020
by Phil Kanagy
Lead Pastor of Weavers Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va.

In this issue of Pathways, we are to share “stories of coping, thriving, innovation, danger, struggle, hardship, new ways of working, new focuses….” Yes—to all of the above.

It’s amazing how the same experience—and experiment—can contain all of those components at the same time. Like every other congregation, we at Weavers Mennonite Church are also experimenting with virtual worship (Facebook live-streaming), virtual committee meetings (Zoom), and ways of providing pastoral care for congregants when we cannot be physically present with them. Nothing can replace in-person contact, but virtual contact is better than nothing.

That was abundantly clear when one of our congregational members needed to be hospitalized with COVID-19. He had underlying health conditions, which of course made him more vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID. Because no visitors were allowed in the hospital, no one could physically go and see him there. His condition worsened, and we soon learned that he was not expected to live.

Desperate to make contact with the patient, I called the hospital chaplain’s office. The chaplain who answered the phone quickly arranged with the patient’s nurse on the COVID floor to make a Duo call (a video chat platform) with myself and the patient.

It was heartbreaking to see and hear the suffering of the patient, but heartwarming to give and receive love from him, pray with him, and just be with him. It was sacred space, even though it was a virtual visit.

The nurse holding the phone for the patient was so kind and helpful…like an angel being there for such a time as this. I wondered what fears she may have already faced of putting her own family at risk of exposure by working with COVID patients? But she graciously made possible a very meaningful connection and conversation between the patient and myself. Four days later the patient died, due to complications from the virus.

While ministry and pastoral care have needed to change in so many ways due to the pandemic, it’s still about making connections and entering sacred spaces—space that the Spirit of God has already entered, and in which those present may encounter a gracious God.

So, while many things are changing, many things are the same. The tools we use for ministry need to be adapted, or perhaps swapped out for new ones that can cope with current realities, but the reasons, purpose, and intentions of this new chest of tools are the same as before—to enable people to encounter the living Christ. May God continue to enable and empower us to the same ends we’ve always asked him for.

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