In 1979, I had just moved to New Jersey into my first apartment to begin my first job out of college at Bell Labs. After a few visits, I found the congregation who would be my church family for the next three years, Luther Memorial in Tinton Falls. Gorgeous location just a stone’s throw away from the horse farms in Colts Neck. The congregation immediately welcomed me, got me involved in the choir, youth ministry and teaching on Sundays. I got to play a lot of trumpet for worship, too. In fact, they gave me a key so I could come and practice there, since the paper thin walls of my apartment prevented me from playing at home.
Before long, the pastor called and asked to come and visit. “Sure. Anytime.” A few weeks later he stopped by in the evening. Now when I moved to New Jersey I didn’t bring a lot with me, just what I could fit in my car. I had a bed, a folding table with a chair, and a brown area rug on the living room floor when he arrived, which is where we sat as we visited. It didn’t seem to bother him, so we had a great time talking and getting to know each other. He was one of the pastors who later encouraged me when I was trying to decide if I should made a career change and go to the seminary.
Over the past thirty-one years I’ve made a lot of home visits just like that one. After someone attends worship with us two or three times, I usually go to visit them and get to know them. No two visits are alike. I’ve been in absolutely gorgeous, palatial homes and single-wide trailers with a lot of “natural ventilation.” I’ve had brief visits that didn’t get past the front door and those that lasted three hours. Sometimes they turn the TV off; sometimes not. I’ve been offered all kinds of snacks and beverages, some of which were absolutely amazing. Some I ate anyway. If there are kids home, they usually want to show me a toy or perform a flip or something for me. Or they hide (because I’m a pretty scary guy), and peek out at me once in a while.
More than a few times, I’ve been able to tell that the family hasn’t had a pastor come to visit them at home. It can be a little awkward for them until they discover I’m pretty easy going and I don’t mind petting the dog or playing with the kids. A few have actually said, “We’ve never had a pastor come to our home.” I try not to let that go to my head. I know there are some families in our church I haven’t visited, or at least haven’t visited for a while. (If you’re one of our members and I haven’t come to see you, I apologize. Please remind me and I’ll set up a visit!)
Recently as I’ve visited, I remember the pastor who came to visit me, and what a difference that made. Plus, when someone is sick or needs help, it helps to know where they live. And it’s also a good reminder for me that I didn’t have to go up to heaven or cross the sea to get to know God. He came to be with me.