Here’s a test that may help you determine if you’ve reached old age: Do you remember when pastors visited every family in their congregation even when there wasn’t a problem? If so, there’s a good chance you’re old.
Many decades ago ministers in a number of denominational traditions attempted to systematically visit every member family in their congregation. In the Dutch Reformed tradition they even had a name for it — “huis bezoeken.” That means “house visitation.”
Some of my Dutch friends recall when the minister, usually accompanied by an elder or two, visited member homes to be sure everyone in the family was living in accordance with the Scriptures. A “huis bezoek,” they recall, was a nervous time, particularly for young people.
We didn’t call it “huis bezoeken” in our home, but I do recall the era when the preacher made regular house calls.
As a youngster I assumed a minister was a hand-picked, sin-free, keeping-an-eye-on-ornery-kids representative of God Himself. So it was that whenever a minister visited our house, my brothers and I quit misbehaving for a while and sat still to listen to what he had to say. Well, at least we sat still.
The first house-calling minister I remember was the Rev. August Cramer. I still don’t know what God looks like but to a six-year-old boy Rev. Cramer looked like someone who did. Though I remember him as a good man, he bore a stern countenance which added to my anxiety.
The next minister I remember visiting our home was the Rev. Milford Olson. Pastor Olson had a big smile and an easy rapport with children. This is the guy who would take off his coat and tie during Vacation Bible School and join us kids in a game of softball. By this time I was no longer afraid of the preacher but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to sit still and listen. Our church taught salvation by grace alone but as an 11-year-old kid I wasn’t ready to give up on brownie-point theology altogether.
Somewhere along the way, my parents became acquainted with the Rev. E.L. Reisem, a native of Norway and a Lutheran Brethren pastor with a delightful Norwegian accent. We were not regular attenders of his church but he visited our home anyway. Maybe he took a look at the four Huisman boys and figured our mother had a special need for prayer and encouragement.
Though sitting still was difficult, I enjoyed listening to Pastor Reisem’s charming accent. To this day I have not met an individual — clergy or otherwise — who has committed to memory as much Scripture as Pastor Reisem. While other visiting ministers read a passage from the Bible before ending the visit Pastor Reisem effortlessly quoted it from memory.
Among those who debate the merit of the various translations of the Bible, there are King James Version supporters who praise its poetic style. While I prefer more contemporary translations for personal study, I have to admit that Pastor Reisem’s lilting accent and tempo made the King James Version truly beautiful.
As with other ministers, Pastor Reisem always ended a visit with a prayer. There, too, I enjoyed listening. With each word like a song from Norway, the silver haired pastor prayed with a sincerity that made you confident he really knew the One to whom he was talking.
Though the tradition of every-home visitation seems to have ended, ministers and priests continue to serve their congregations well. Most pastors make hospital and nursing home calls, console the bereaved, counsel the distraught, visit homebound members, make outreach calls and call on newcomers. That, of course, is on top of sermon-preparation and a multitude of other duties. Even if today’s pastors had the time for it, their congregants’ hectic lifestyles make every-member visitation nearly impossible.
Though I believe a minister’s time is better spent focusing on those with specific needs rather than a regimented every-family visitation schedule, I recall with fondness the times the preacher came to visit.
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at email@example.com.