Below are some solid quotes from Shedd’s Pastoral Theology on parochial visitation. It should be observed how much of the old European model he advocates, notwithstanding the American milieu in which he labored.
First, Shedd stipulates that pastors ought to be engaged in personal, ‘door to door’ visitation (as we might say) in his parish. In addition to being a preacher,
He is a pastor, that is, one whose duty it is to go from house to house, and address men privately, and individually, upon the subject of religion. This kind of labor, as necessarily forms a part of the ministerial service, as preaching (389).
Second, visitation should be habitual and systematic. “The clergyman should be systematic, in pastoral visiting, regularly performing a certain amount of this labor every week” (391). He builds on this with several guidelines and suggesting various advantages to the method:
In systematizing this part of his work, the clergyman should fix a day for its performance. Let it uniformly be done on the same day of the week, and in the same part of the day. Again, he should pass around his entire parish within a certain time. This will make it necessary to visit his people by districts, or neighborhoods; and, unless there be a special reason for it, he should not visit in the same locality again, until he has come round to it in full circuit. This course will compel the parishioner, should there be need of a special visit, as in case of sickness, religious anxiety, or affliction, to send for him, in obedience to the apostolic direction, ‘Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church’ (393).
With regard to the length of time to be spent, much depends upon the extent of the parish, and the number of the people. In a parish of ordinary size, one afternoon every week, especially if the ensuing be devoted to preaching in the district or neighborhood, is sufficient, – provided, the pastor makes his visits in the manner which we shall describe under another head. This may seem a short time to devote to parochial visiting; but, if it be systematically and regularly devoted, it is longer than it looks. As, in a previous chapter, we remarked that even five hours of severe, close study, will accomplish a great deal in the way of intellectual culture and sermonizing, in the course of years, so we shall find that a half-day in each week, will accomplish much in the way of parochial labor, in the lapse of time. The clergyman, like every other man, needs to pay special attention to the particulars, of system, and uniformity, in action. Small spaces of time become ample and great, by being regularly and faithfully employed. It is because time is wasted so regularly and uniformly, and not because it is wasted in such large amounts at once, that so much of human life runs to waste. Every one is familiar with the story of the author who composed a voluminous work, in the course of his life, by merely devoting to it the five or ten minutes, which he found he must uniformly wait for his dinner, after having been called.
Besides these advantages upon the side of the clergyman, in systematic visiting, there are others upon the side of the congregation. They will be pleased with their pastor’s business-like method. They will copy his example and become a more punctual and systematic people, both secularly and religiously. They will notice that their pastor is a man who lays out his work, and, what is more, does it, and, what is still more, does it thoroughly. They will respect him for it. They will not crowd him, and urge him, as they will a minister who has no system, and who is therefore always lagging in his work (394-95).
We have advised a systematic visitation of the parish, by districts and neighborhoods. In case the clergyman is settled among an agricultural population, widely scattered, he will find this much the easiest, and surest way to communicate with the whole body of his people. His parish is his diocese, and he is its bishop. Let him make his visitations through the whole length and breadth of it, with the same system and regularity, with which the prelatical bishop makes his annual visitation. The pastor should also imitate the method of the prelate, in another respect, and preach in these districts, in connection with this pastoral calls. If he is settled in a city or town, where the main body of the congregation are within a short distance of the church edifice, his public discourses must be in one place. But, if his lot has been cast among an agricultural people, who are scattered (and this is the kind of parish, in which the majority of clergyman are appointed to labor), he should preach a free, extemporaneous discourse, in the evening of the day of his visitation. Having gone from house to house, in the manner that has been described, let him wind up the earnest work of pastoral visiting, for the week, with a plain and glowing address to the families of the district, assembled at an appointed time. He will find it a most genial and exhilarating service, upon his own part, and a most interesting and profitable one, upon the part of the people. Enforcing, in a common assemblage, all that he has said in the families, and to the individuals, he will clinch the nails which he has been driving (401-402).
Third, and perhaps the most crucial point in demonstrating Shedd’s idealization of the old European model, he does not appear to define the ‘parish’ narrowly as the minister’s communicant congregation:
When, therefore, a parochial call is made, let the pastor plunge in medias sacras res. . . But if [the visited individual] does not voluntarily admit him to personal conversation, in the capacity of a spiritual adviser, then he is obliged to let him do his work faithfully, and well. And even the worldly man is better pleased with this thorough professional dealing, than might be supposed at first sight. Even if, owing to the hardness of the heart and the intensity of the worldliness, the pastor makes no other impression, he will show, beyond dispute, that he is an earnest and sincere watcher for souls, and fisher of men. The parishioner will say to himself: ‘My pastor understands his work, and performs it with fidelity; it will not be his fault, if I continue irreligious.’ It is certain, that this spiritual earnestness and love for the human soul, when thus organized into a regular plan of operations, and systematized into regular uniformity, will produce results. Thoughtless men, finding their pastor upon their trail, coming into their families, and to themselves personally, with a plain and affectionate address upon the subject of religion and nothing else, once in every year or half year, will begin to think of what it all means. They will find themselves in a net-work. They will see that they are caught in a process. Their pastor has laid out his work ahead, for many long years, and, if he lives, and they live, they know that the regular motion of the globe will bring him around to them, once in so often. They will come to some conclusion. They will either submit, and subject themselves to these uniform and persistent influences, or else they will get clear of them altogether. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, they will do the former thing, and thus the pastor will be instrumental, by his determined parochial fidelity, in bringing into the church, a great number who would otherwise go through life almost Christians, and die unregenerate (400-401).
Clearly, the parish is not simply another term for a congregation in its geographic locality. The ‘parish’ for Shedd is more of a district out of which the ministry draws a congregation. The district is his field of Gospel labor. Some in the district are wheat and some are tares (the mixed congregation); many are still beneath the surface as sown seed (the unconverted, non-attenders).
After reading this chapter, I speculate whether it reveals the influence of Thomas Chalmers. Not only the language, but the ideas are very Chalmersian – defined localities of ministry, a long-term, systematic program of personal visitation of congregants and non-attenders, the power of combined ‘littles,’ together with an enumeration of the efficiencies and practical advantages of the plan. I haven’t researched it, so it remains just a hunch. But I do know that others in 19th century America were struck by Chalmers’ vision of the ‘Christian good of Scotland’ and strirred by the stories of the St. John’s and West Port Experiments. Shedd just sounds like Chalmers here. Or maybe it points to a serious reading of Baxter. Maybe both!