I have many concerns about returning to the church that has not bothered to miss me, call me, or visit me for the long 8 months I haven’t been able to attend due to multiple surgeries and increased chronic pain. I want to go to fellowship with the body of church, but why did none of them care to find out what was going on with me? I was fully active in ministries for 8 years before I was unable to continue serving due to poor health.
Your frustration and disappointment is justified, but I can say with confidence that you likely just fell through the cracks and there was nothing personal about it. My church has done the same.
There are some churches that are excellent at outreaching to those with chronic illness or pain, but the majority still lack any kind of program that coordinates cards, visitations, phone calls, etc. to those who have long-term conditions. I’ve found that small churches who have Deacons or Stephen Ministries can be quite encouraging because they are aware of the challenges those with invisible illnesses are facing.
Studies have shown that the larger churches of today put congregational care low on their list of priorities (Barna Study: Church Priorities for 2005 Vary Considerably) . While they may have volunteers who quickly bring meals for those who have surgery, or teams of people to help those with cancer, those with illness are often forgotten. Many times people just don’t have any idea how bad the pain is. Especially if someone runs into you at the grocery store and you look fine. Sad, isn’t it?
That said, you have a few choices. You can go back and see how it feels and even open up some communication; not as someone scorned, but as someone who doesn’t want to see other people in the church experience the same thing. Would you be willing to help in any sort of ministry that cares for those who are ill? If you feel you physically cannot commit, could you be the “consultant” if the church wanted to have a more thorough ministry to those who are ill?
Or, if you feel too heartbroken, try a new church. Just be well-aware that it may likely happen all over again. Churches are full of imperfect people and as the founder of Rest Ministries I am all too aware of the frequency that illness ministry is entirely missed. You can find a list of churches who have devoted themselves to outreaching and welcoming those with disabilities over at Joni and Friends website here by contacting the local area ministry closest to you.
Regardless of your choice, remember how it felt, so that they next time you see a prayer request in the church bulletin, or you don’t see someone in attendance for a few weeks, check on them. Be the person you wished would have come and knocked on your door. I know it takes some effort and physical energy, but scripture says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” and I experience that each day. We have put together a Pinterest board of resources, books and more you can see here called, “Hurt by the Church.”