Image by Karolina Badzmierowska

Pastoral Care

pastoral care retreat

A “trauma teach-in” with the First Parish in Needham Pastoral Care Team, due to the ongoing stress and trauma of the pandemic.

My first love within ministry was pastoral care and spiritual guidance. In the very first small group that I ever joined, while in college, our group weathered a slew of personal storms. Yet, in covenant group, we would come together and - to be sure, not often actually fix anything, but - provide one another with witness and presence a not-turning-away-ness, connecting each other to glimpses of meaning and gentle reminders of our supports, strengths, and resources. And, somehow, impossibly, that was enough. Sacred, even. In effective pastoral care (the pastoral care that I strive to deliver as a minister), this is the blessing and the gift.

Mary Clark Moschella writes, “There is a blessed relief that comes from feeling understood, known, by another.” This is the holy foundation of my work as a pastoral caregiver, and is why in our first few meetings I ask a lot of questions and am so interested in your stories. I am clear that the way that one spiritual theme might show up in my life could be worlds apart from how it shows up in yours. On the other hand, I’m also influenced by Henri Nouwen’s notion of the “wounded healer,” which is to say that helping relationships aren’t so much about the spiritual caregiver helping or fixing from above as our humanity, each to each, encountering each other on level ground. The pandemic has made this truth even more salient. I know that being an effective pastoral caregiver means understanding my own wounds, otherness, and growing edges.

I hope you’ll remember that I’m changed too by these caregiving encounters.

 

In The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love, Sonya Renee Taylor writes that individuals contain within them constellations of the oppression and othering embedded in our culture and systems (think: internalized ableism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, capitalism, etc.). Subsequently, one of my deeply held beliefs about pastoral care is that justice-oriented, oppression-sensitive pastoral care is one way that we help create a more just world, starting with each one of us. Peace and liberation begin here, with me. Here, again, I’ll re-emphasize that, to me, healing and justice are two sides of the same coin of ministry.

 

Lastly, I believe that pastoral care is one of the functions of ministry that is served so well by shared ministry teams. I love working with lay pastoral care teams; I see our work together as so holy. This past year at First Parish in Needham, not only did our lay pastoral care team provide a tremendous service to the church, but I believe that we learned more about ourselves and grew spiritually in the process. And what a joy that was! Pastoral care, done well, goes on this way—happening in both formal conversations and those interstitial spaces of congregational life, and offering respite and warmth for the recipient of care and caregiver alike.

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