Members in the hospital need pastoral visits, but not always from the pastor. Local lay elders can have a vital hospital ministry. The following guidelines should be helpful.

1. Turn gossip into a gift. Assign members who always seem to know everything that goes on the responsibility of notifying the pastor or head elder when a member is hospitalized.

2. Go immediately. Hospital stays are getting shorter and shorter, and people feel neglected and even rejected if someone representing the church doesn't visit.

3. Check at the nurses' station as a courtesy to the care-givers. You might learn something about the patient's illness and ensure that a visit is not out of order. This is especially important in an obstetrics ward, where special rules may apply.

4. Befriend others in the room. They may be longing for spiritual encouragement.

5. Don't wake the patient. Finding rest is difficult in a hospital. Write a sentence or two on a card and leave it by the bed.

6. Don't sit or lean on the bed. This can bring serious discomfort to a sore body. Instead, offer a lingering handshake as you begin your visit. It shows you care.

7. Be cautious in asking about illness. The patient may be facing immediate surgery or a serious diagnosis, such as malignancy. The direction of your visit and its length should follow the particular need of the situation. It is better to get your information at the nurses' station, but the nurse might not be available or willing to tell you. So you might ask the patient: "Are you in for something serious?" or "How are you feeling?" You could also say with a reassuring smile: "Tell me what's been happening with you." You'll learn whatever the person wants to share about the illness.

8. Be sensitive to anxiety. Some patients suppose that good Christians should not suffer fear or worry. They simulate a courage and bravado that they don't genuinely feel. If you sense this happening, gently encourage them to air their negative feelings so you can bring relief.

9. Be positive. Bring in a little sunshine. Keep in mind, though, that the hospital is not a place for boisterous frivolity.

10. Listen much. Don't talk too much, but enough to assure patients that you have heard and understood them. Your mere presence says a lot.

11. Share a text if appropriate. Carry a pocket Bible. Suggested scriptures are in the shaded box below.

12. Be brief. Leave almost immediately if the patient is in pain. In other cases, a 5- to 10-minute visit is usually adequate.

13. Pray. Take the patient's hand and pray specifically for the needs expressed. Pray a special prayer with new mothers, asking God to bless their abies.

14. Leave soon after prayer, while its aura prevails. The blessing of the Lord will remain with the patient, and the results of your visit may prove to be eternal.

Suggested scriptures for hospital visitation

General texts: Psalms 23, 46, 101, 103; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 15:30, 31; Romans 5:3-5; 8:16-39; James 5:13-16; 3 John 2

Before surgery: Psalms 91; 103:1-5; Isaiah 43:1-3; 58:8, 9

In pain: Isaiah 26:3, 4; Mat 11:28, 29; John 14:27

Facing death: Psalms 23; 56:11; 90:1-6, 10; Isaiah 56:11; John 3:14-16; 14:1-4, 25-27; Romans 8:35-39; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

On recovery: Psalms 34:4-8; 107:1-9; Luke 17:12-18

Childbirth: Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 1:46-49

Adapted from the Minister's Manual