One of the most useful tools in my Pastoral Care toolkit is my iPhone 6 Plus (the BIG ONE!). I use my phone for for a wide variety of office and administrative things, and many of those uses also cross over into pastoral care.
I can access and update the entire parish calendar from my phone (we use Google Calendar – it is a FREE service that Google offers and it is easily adapted to church websites – see here). Beyond the church calendar that is public, my personal calendar and the calendar that I share with my wife are also set up in Google calendar and totally accessible from my phone. In terms of Pastoral Care, the fact that I have access to and can update the parish calendar immediately, anywhere, and in a way that anyone who uses or views the calendar on the website or on their phones is, frankly, something that I would find hard to do without. I can schedule funerals, hospital visits, homebound visits, and any other event (meetings!) from my phone, which means I am able to give an answer to someone quickly without having to check in with the office or with my family or worry about conflicting events that I haven’t written down somewhere. If you aren’t using some form of a smart calendar (like Google or Apple or whatever), you might consider it.
I also use my phone for email. Yes, like everyone else, I get lots of junk email, but I also do a fair amount of pastoral care via emails. Checking in with someone takes a variety of forms, and sometimes (not always obviously) an email is the best way to drop a line. Having access to my email all the time is amazingly convenient for the business of church, but it also is convenient for the pastoral care side of things.
I use my phone to update the parish website. Yes, I can do that. Our site is based on WordPress, and WordPress provides a free app that allows me to update the page, and also update our newsfeed (a combination of public bulletin board and an email blast – if you have a blog you will recognize that as a “blogging” platform, but it works quite well for a church). Through the website, I can email the entire parish. In terms of pastoral care, it means that I can send out a notice if someone has died. I can send out a prayer request or thanks for prayers. I can send out a request for food and supplies for the food pantry. I can send out a request for donations to the Parish Family Support Fund. And I can do all of these things from my phone.
I have a blog, a FB and Twitter page, and the church has a FB and Twitter page. I can access, edit, and publish things to these various social media sites as well… from my phone.
Perhaps most important, and certainly most controversial among my clergy friends, I publish my cell phone number. It is listed on our website, on our bulletins, on my business card, and on the church answering machine, etc. I receive and send texts to parishioners. I get cell phone calls from parishioners, from people in the community, I get some solicitations, I get a very few “weird and creepy” calls. Obviously there is a downside to publishing my cell phone, but the positive side of it is far greater and twofold: 1) everything comes to me – The house phone is published too, but everyone knows that calling my cell means getting me, not my wife, not the church voicemail, not someone at the church, and 2) everyone who needs to reach me can reach me or at least leave a message for me. I can’t and don’t answer every call as it comes in; unless the call is an obvious priority/emergency, I don’t interrupt conversations, or take calls at meals, at the hospital, in church, in meetings or at events. That said, I do know that someone called if I was not able to take the call, and I listen to the Voice Mail and return that call as soon as I can or as soon as it is appropriate. I’ve worked out and I am clear with the congregation about when it is better to call my cell or call the office, and people are almost uniformly able to grasp that a broken coffee pot in the parish kitchen is an office issue and not a cell phone issue, they are clear that a request for a hospital visit is a cell phone issue and not an office issue. They understand that I am available as their priest, and they are careful not to abuse that fact (and when they don’t understand that I am pretty good at communicating respect for boundaries). For the record, I received and answered a pastoral care related call on my cell phone while I was writing this post
I know not every priest would dare publish their cell phone number. I know that what works in my church might not work in a church with thousands of members – that said I freely gave out my cell phone when I was at SMV in NYC and that is a pretty big parish, and I never had any problems that outweighed the benefits of being available as a pastor. I also know that most people understand basic boundaries, and most people understand that when you call anyone’s cell (outside of family and close friends) it is because you NEED to speak directly to that person. I know clergy that solve the cell phone problem by having a personal cell and a church cell. Sounds good, I just prefer carrying only one massive iPhone around.
Id love to hear any thoughts on this from anyone who is reading.