An Open Letter To My Congregant in the ICU

My Dear Congregant,

I write to you today because this afternoon our system failed you. Before we get into that, let’s back up for a moment.

There are many instances where I don’t remember my first meeting with a congregant, but I remember when my wife and I first met you. It was a difficult time in your life, and I will never forget the tears of joy that you shed at the way God uplifted you that day as I watched members of our congregation be a blessing to you. I love being able to watch as people bless each other and together lean on their faith in difficult circumstances.

I remember hearing about your life journey, and the many devastating trials you have been through. I have often marvelled at how your faith has sustained you through so many challenges of so many kinds. Even in the years that I have known you I have watched as you faced many ups and downs. We have met with you often to pray, and I have seen how vital your faith has been to seeing you through so many difficulties. I have also watched you live out your faith vibrantly in ways that have been a blessing to so many—I have watched as you “pay it forward” again and again. I have also watched prayer transform you from a ball of worry and fear to a person at peace.

Now you are in the hospital, having undergone a major surgery. I tried to come and visit you today in order to pray with you, but I was turned away. Can you believe it?! Our county is one of the ones in better shape than much of Ontario in regard to active COVID-19 cases, and they wouldn’t let me come and pray with you. Other counties in worse shape than us let their pastors into the hospitals, which goes to show that they wouldn’t have to deny you your right to spiritual care, they just arbitrarily chose to curtail your charter rights.

I know how much it means to you when I pray with you, and there have been times where I have stood in awe at how prayer has been able to change your entire disposition and give you a sense of peace that is more visible than the nose on your face. In those moments of prayer the space between heaven and earth somehow becomes thinner and your faith is strengthened so profoundly that it is visible in your eyes, on your face, in your posture, and even in the way you walk and talk. I am angry that the hospital turned me away, and wouldn’t let me come to pray with you in this time of need. I wish they could see the way that prayer helps you, more than any medication they could prescribe.

I have been taught that anger is a “secondary” emotion, and I believe it is. I feel angry in this moment about you being denied this vital spiritual care, but if I take a moment to think about the emotions that come before the anger, I would have to tell you that I am heartbroken for you, I am worried about you, and I feel the sting of injustice as you have been denied a visit from your pastor, something that is a constitutional right for both of us as Canadian citizens. 

If it were only about my rights I would remain silent, but I am worried about you and others like you, who want their ministers to minister to them, wanting their pastors to pastor them, and waiting in loneliness while their reverends are turned away at the door. Jesus sought out those who were in need, Jesus went to the sick, and Jesus stood up to the powers of the day in order to serve the vulnerable. For the entire history of the church, pastors have always been able to pray with the sick and those who are dying. My dear friend, I can only imagine how vulnerable and lonely you feel right now, and I wish I could come and pray with you and provide the spiritual care that means so much to you, and that is my sacred duty and calling to provide as a minister of our Lord Jesus. I want you to know that I have sent a letter to our Member of Provincial Parliament on your behalf. These policies are unjust, and I am sorry for how they are harming you right now. 

Please also know, my dear friend, how much I also respect our medical system and the government for how they are trying to protect patients in the midst of this pandemic; yet not all hospitals in the area are depriving their patients of spiritual care, and with certain measures in place they safely allow patients access to their pastors in order to pray together. I am so sorry that the hospital where you are staying has taken such an unnecessary and drastic step, in which you are being deprived of something vital to your well being. I am all for protective measures, but surely hospitals can find ways to work together with spiritual care providers even in such difficult times? Thankfully many others do, though that doesn’t help you today, and I lament this reality.

I realize that pastors carry a certain amount of power in our communities, and with that comes a certain amount of responsibility…So I tried to appeal to various people within the hospital, but in the end I was told that there was no way that they were going to let me in to pray with you today. Knowing full well that this is unconstitutional, I asked them for this rejection in writing, but they wouldn’t provide that either, other than a vague promise to email me their policies (which I still haven’t received as of the time of writing this). As I said, I have now also appealed to our region’s provincial representative to rectify this, in hopes that he might be able to help you receive the care you need.

I feel like I have failed you. I let some bureaucratic red-tape get in the way. Maybe I could have been more stubborn or persistent. Maybe I could have made more of a scene. I let them trample on your charter rights, and more than that I let them deny you spiritual care that is so needed right now. While you lay there in such uncertainty and pain, while you feel lonely and confused and sad, please know I am sorry for being unable to get through to you today. 

I am praying that you can make it home soon, and when you do I hope you will see this letter and see how hard we tried to be there for you. Even as I type these words, I received news of how much you need to pray with someone right now.

My dear congregant, while I have appealed to hospital authorities as well as government authorities, please know I am also bringing my petitions to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 

May God the Father give you grace and peace through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and may the Holy Spirit bring you comfort in your difficulty.


Your Pastor

Kevin Wiebe

Kevin Wiebe is the Senior Pastor of New Life Christian and the author of the book Faithful in Small Things. He is married to Emily and they have three children and live near Tilbury, Ontario. Kevin hold a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Providence University College, as well as a Certificate in Conflict Management and Congregational Leadership from Conrad Grebel University College.

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