WE HAD barely moved into our home in the Southland, where my husband was to pastor a church, when a woman called: "Are you Mrs. Wright?" "Yes," I answered, "and you?" "Oh, I guess that's not important, but I've had another letter from the church clerk in __________ suggesting that I move my membership at once or have my name dropped from the books. Don't you think I'd better have it dropped? You see, I can't help the church financially, and I can't get there very often, so I'm no good to the church."
I thought: This must be a new member— maybe not rooted and grounded in the faith. Then I breathed a quick prayer for help.
"No, my dear sister, don't do that. We will come over to see you and talk things over. How long have you been an Adventist?"
"Oh, about thirty years."
"I tried to remain calm. "Were you active in church work up north?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, I went to the Dorcas meetings every week." Then she told of some of her experiences and how they struggled to get the needed equipment for the center.
Needless to say, we visited this dear couple and found a real love for the church, but they had little money and no way to get to church. We found she had an interest in helping children and Dorcas Welfare projects. Someone started picking them up to take them to church. They could have been dropped!
We are seeking new members all the time, but what is happening to the ones in the church, the lonely, sick, isolated, or discouraged? Aren't the sheep in the flock as important as the neighbor down the street?
This is where the clerks may be of real help to the pastors and deacons when a person moves to another town. We didn't know these people were in our city. If their home church clerk had written to the clerk of the nearest church to where they had moved, she might have contacted them or had the pastor or deaconess look them up.
At another time the pastor was called to conduct the funeral of a woman none of us knew. We wondered why they wanted a Seventh-day Adventist preacher. "Oh, mother was a Seventh-day Adventist up in Ohio. She was very active in some sewing circle where they helped people. She came to live with us about a year ago. She was wonderful—oh, yes, we passed by your church many times. She didn't want to be any trouble. She never asked us to take her." We saw tears flow freely as they blamed themselves for not getting in touch; but there she was, a beautiful woman—dead—lonely for her church and friends till her death, but we didn't know!
There are lonely hearts to cherish,
While the days are going by:
There are weary souls who perish,
While the days are going by
If a smile we can renew,
As our journey we pursue,
O, the good we all may do,
While the days are going by.
—IRA D. SANKEY
Victory in Song, p. 486
One evening I telephoned and found I had the wrong number. I was friendly and the woman started to pour out her heart to me. She said she needed to talk to someone. I told her that I was a Seventh-day Adventist minister's wife and although we were miles apart and had never met we could visit and pray for each other. We had prayer over the phone, and she seemed most grateful. Did I get the wrong number?
Before leaving the home of a nonmember who came to church occasionally, my husband said: "May we have a little prayer?" He hastily excused himself, and we wondered whether he was offended. He returned a few minutes later, drying his eyes: "Elder Wright, no one has asked to have prayer with me in years."
Telephone committees are formed in some churches. Even wheel-chair cripples or isolated people may be able to take part in these. This is one way to keep in touch with the sick and isolated. The pastor or his wife or the deacons do not have to make all the calls. The church is bound closer together by its members. The Church Manual suggests that each deacon or deaconess visit each home at least once a quarter and once a month if possible. This they should do, but others could do this also.
In one area where it seemed practical to organize the church for a stronger visitation pro gram, the pastor asked each of the elders to take a certain section of town or a specific number of families to visit once a quarter. This worked well. But when he learned that some members had not been visited, called, or contacted in any way for two or more years, he reorganized the church into three visitation groups using the elders, deacons, and deaconesses.
The pastor's wife who becomes acquainted with the members is in a position to spread cheer around by suggesting to them the names of other members on whom they might call. Persons completely overwhelmed by their own problems could be given someone worse off than themselves to visit and sometimes they forget their own problems while doing so.
If visitation becomes a burden you may invite several to your home. In one area we formed a grandmothers' club, and how enthusiastic they were! Generally speaking, people are social beings. Jesus went about talking to people where He met them in their churches and in their homes. He loved the Marys and the Marthas, and we would do well to follow in His steps.
The book The Pastor's Wife, by Carolyn P. Blackwood (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), is filled with good common sense for a pastor's wife. This is not a new book, but still very useful. On page 154, Mrs. Blackwood says: "You never really know them until you see them in their homes. Think of these as social calls, not pastoral. People do not unburden their hearts in the presence of two young strangers. Even if the husband has already been in the field, the people must become acquainted with his wife socially."
There are occasions when a woman will want to visit with you alone. The young widows in the church often come in for more gossip than help. This writer remembers when her widowed mother of four was very busy trying to get her work done. The pastor called for a visit. He found her in a disheartened condition and very busy. "I'm washing"—some of you remember boiling the clothes then using the scrubbing board, et cetera? The pastor, taking in the situation, said, "Let me help you." Rolling up his sleeves, he worked along with her while they visited. I was there, and I shall never forget Elder E. L. Cardey—the pastor. My mother never forgot him either!
Some reading suggestions: In visiting members who question the Spirit of Prophecy, direct them to the very readable book Believe His Prophets, by D. E. Rebok, especially chapter 8, "God Revealed Secrets Through Ellen G. White"; and Seeking His Lost Sheep, by Fordyce W. Detamore, Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee. Some would not be counted lost if we used these methods in time: Gospel Workers, by Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Washington, D.C., page 181, "The Under-Shepherd"; page 213, "Prayer for the Sick"; Welfare Ministry, by Ellen G. White, chapter on "Women Called to the Work," page 143, and "The Poor in the Church," page 178, and Appendix 321, "Sister White as a Personal Worker.