Expectations and experiences surrounding the visitation of families within the congregation had its own uniqueness prior to the time of salaried pastoral leadership. The care of the church was understood to be the task and privilege of extended families. Many factors contributed to making this a satisfactory and supportive arrangement. Most Mennonite congregations were located in rural settings and in close geographic proximity. Most Mennonites lived and worked on farms. They not only worshiped together, but also assisted each other with harvesting, building, and other tasks that required the resources of the larger community. Mennonite children usually attended the same school and in some settings were actually in the majority. Young people normally assisted on the farm of their parents or were hired by relatives or other church friends.
Open communication surrounding family needs and congregational concerns were shared in natural and informal ways, over the line fence and around the dinner table. Visiting each other was the natural extension of good church community relationships. Everyone expected it to happen. There was no need to make appointments or to wait for invitations. Within this informal arrangement, most of the people were informed about and interested in the spiritual welfare, joys, and sorrows of the larger church family. Appointed congregational leaders were the recipients of such visits in the same manner as others within the church setting.
When individuals or families experienced illness, the visitation program already in operation became the primary focus of the laity and designated congregational leaders. Offering and providing assistance with farm or household duties were concrete ways in which care and concern were demonstrated. In addition to this good support network, the deacon would normally be the first of the ministerial leadership to contact the family. The added dimension of the deacon's presence would have been to ascertain the mutual aid concerns. It was his duty to be a good steward of the charities of the church and to facilitate their distribution to members, especially the sick, widows, and orphans as may be appropriate. When people had spiritual needs, or if strife was evident, the deacon may also have been the first ministerial leader to make the contact.
Among other tasks, a minister's primary function was to preach. The bishop or elder preached and officiated at special ceremonies of the church. In addition to the deacon, they also became involved in visitation, depending on their gifts, interests, or according to the customs of the local community.
In the days of an unsalaried ministry, pastoral visitation was the function of the total community of faith. As leadership shifted to salaried and professional pastors, some aspects of visiting were transformed into pastoral and psychological counseling often by referral to professional counselors. Some congregations have formalized and organized pastoral care through lay elders who relate to clusters or small groups within the congregation. Other congregations have organized pastoral care committees to assist ministers in pastoral care. The role of deacons has declined or disappeared in most congregations of the more acculturated Mennonite groups. The Old Order Mennonites, Amish and similar conserving groups retain the informal patterns described above.
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MLA style: Schultz, Herbert E. "Pastoral Visiting." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P383ME.html.
APA style: Schultz, Herbert E. (1989). Pastoral Visiting. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P383ME.html.