The last to know

We have an answering machine on our home telephone.  My cell phone number is posted and regularly published at our church.  Our office phone will actually call my cell phone when someone leaves me a voice mail.  In short, I am absolutely available 24/7, even when I’m out of town.  But, despite my urgent assurances that I want to know when someone is sick, in the hospital, or has a crisis, here’s what happened:

Last Wednesday night I walked into our fellowship hall for our Wednesday night dinner.  Two people greeted me with questions:  Is so-and-so out of the hospital?  (names changed to protect the innocent)  Of course, I didn’t know so-and-so was in the hospital, which had apparently happened the night before.  No one called me.  

Just the day before I received a similar call — Did you know so-and-so died early Monday morning? (this was Tuesday).  So, my question is — are you as a pastor the last to know what is going on with your congregation?  How do you solve that problem?  I’d be interested to know.  And, not last this time.  Thanks.

7 thoughts on “The last to know”

  1. In our congregation we have one or two people that are mysteriously aware of everything that happens in the community (occasionally before it even happens). I rely on their assistance with this (they are aware of the service they perform) and the instances of being blindsided have gotten rarer.

    Other than that, I know of no fail-proof method. There are still the missed funerals, hospital stays, and illnesses. And of course I usually find out about them in a public gathering.

  2. I think many times people assume that you already know. I have told the folks in our church that I would rather have 4 or 5 people call me to let me know of a situation rather than find out about it after the fact. Sometimes things still slip through the cracks but not nearly as often.

  3. I have a couple of folks who are similar to Nephos’ “listeners”. They have, on occasion, served me and our congregation in this way.

    Beyond that, I wonder how much I should concern myself with it. Like you, I have repeatedly made my people aware of my desire to be present when they may need a pastor– especially in times of health or physical needs. If they (or their family members) then do not let me know about it, I don’t feel bad if I don’t find out. When I do, I respond by attending to them as soon as possible– which is usually very well-received. And I’m finding that those who I’ve been able to minister to in these situations are more frequent to inform me at a later point.

    Maybe a meta-question is: what should our response be when they DON’T keep us informed of ways we could minister to them? I think that the people who failed to let their PASTOR know about a funeral or hospital stay in their family should be (and are) at least as embarrassed as the pastor ought– and probably much more.

  4. I have some well connected ladies who always seem to be the first to know. But, they often don’t pass the info onto me. So I find out someone had an operation after they are back home, or that someone’s mom died, and I find out the day after the funeral etc. So it’s not just you.

    Chris Meirose

  5. In response to the original question, I find there isn’t much I can do about it…except let people know that I want to know. When I find out, in those public gatherings, about something; I usually say something to the affect: “Please call me in the future.” Also, like was said before; I also have a couple of people that I have expressly asked to keep me informed. There are those in our congregation, we just have to find them. It isn’t a full proof method, but it works.

    This is a good question, raised by Ed E.:

    “Maybe a meta-question is: what should our response be when they DON’T keep us informed of ways we could minister to them?”

    I’ve found that many ministers tend towards the “pleasing” end of the spectrum (myself included). Combine that with a vocation with little tangible results in a results driven world; one can find him/herself actually getting upset at their congregation. I’ve never seen this work out well. I believe we should respond with proper emotion (sadness, hopefulness, etc.) as required; but also with a non-anxious presence. This should be a mainstay in our ministerial tool bag. Don’t get mad. Don’t heap on the guilt. Show your concern, and move on as is appropriate for your situation.


  6. I agree with your post and several of the comments above. I think for the most part, many parishioners think that the pastor is (or should be) omniscient, and I find this true where I pastor – even though I am in a very understanding congregation. Like most of you, I’ve tried to tap into some folks who seem to know what’s going on – but even then, I don’t always find things out until it’s too late.

    And like most of you, I’ve repeatedly told my congregation to call me if something happens to them or to someone they know. But I have added the clause, “I cannot be present with you if you won’t let me know when you are in trouble, or if you won’t tell me your needs.” This way, the care I give is my responsibility – but they understand that I can’t perform mine until they perform theirs.

  7. Apparently I am not the only pastor who has been “the last to know.” And, that’s good to know…kind of helps me keep my perspective. Thanks for all the comments and solutions that help. I’ve learned some things, as I always do from your comments. Thanks. -Chuck

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