06 February 2010

Pastoral care: the spiritual foundations

The Good Shepherd ... the model for pastoral ministry

Patrick Comerford


At time, a think a false dichotomy or unnecessary dichotomy is created when we talk about pastoral care and spiritual care, so that there is often a danger of separating pastoral care from spiritual care, pastoral needs from spiritual needs, pastoral life from spirituality.

Indeed, some of the best text books on spirituality have no specific chapter or entry on pastoral care and how spirituality, spiritual growth, spiritual care related to the pastoral care we offer to people.

If you look at many of the Dictionaries on spirituality, or the manuals of spiritual direction, you may find no entry on pastoral care, and may even be in danger of coming away with the impression that spiritual care is mainly about spiritual direction, and that spiritual direction is either only for a small, closed, exclusive group or even a group that is in danger of being perceived by others as striving to be spiritually elite, or something that concerns people who browse the “spirit, mind and body” shelves of bookshops and who are happy with any and every “New Age” fashion?

So often, on the other hand, when train pastoral care, danger of over-professionalising pastoral care, confusing its roles with counselling and even with psychotherapy, at the risk of not paying attention to the spiritual foundations of pastoral care.

What pastoral care is not

So, if we offer pastoral care to people as an essential part of our understanding of what we do in ministry, what are your understandings of pastoral care? How does it differ from solving people’s problems, or helping them to deal with the issues that arise when they confront those problems?

There are many assumptions about what constitutes pastoral care. Commonly, people say the main clerical or pastoral tasks as preaching and leading worship. But, through your placements, you have found pastoral care involves much, much more.

You have already realised that the demands and expectations of ministry include hospital, school and prison chaplaincy, home and hospital visits, baptisms, weddings funerals, and organising and taking part in other religious activities.

And, despite how it may appear to others, and – despite how we may tempted to feel like it, especially when we think we are being called on to “hatch, match and dispatch” – these are not merely moments when we are – to borrow an appropriate cliché – “service providers”; they are crisis moments which we best serve when we are deeply conscious of the spiritual foundations for what we do, and for the pastoral care we offer.

If clergy have qualifications in counselling or psychotherapy, they may offer professional psychological services when they give pastoral counselling as part of their pastoral care of souls. However, most pastoral care is not counselling and the two should not be confused. And even where a priest is a qualified therapist, the two should not be incorporated – the priest is either a therapist or a confessor, but not both at the same time.

The two processes, both of which are privileged and confidential legally and canonically, are separate by nature.

Youth workers and youth ministers also need to look holistically at the youth of the community. This must include their spirituality and their connectedness to the community and their faith. Youth workers and youth ministers who are not qualified in counselling should avoid taking on psychological assessments, even when they are predisposed to this type of care.

But if it’s not to be confused with counselling, psychotherapy and healing, neither is pastoral care another description of “doing good work.” You are not going to be a social worker, helping people know their benefit entitlements, find a job, find a care home for an elderly family member, or find a baby sitter. It will help – and help immensely – if you know who they should turn to when they identify these and similar needs. But you are not a social worker, and pastoral care is not social work.

And if you don’t know the difference between pastoral care and the other caring professions, you will soon succumb to ministerial burnout.

So what is pastoral care?

You have started on the pastoral care module, and have probably realised already the dangerous possibility of every aspect of your ministry being categorised as pastoral ministry.

There are pastoral dimensions to every aspect of your ministry, but I hope you are already realising those areas where pastoral care is quite different from your liturgical ministry, your preaching ministry, your engagement in mission, and your role in the ministry of administration – which includes taking a part in vestries, synods, parish, and in diocesan and central committees and boards.

At your ordination as deacons this summer, you will be asked by your bishop to be faithful in visiting the sick, in caring for the poor and in helping the oppressed (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 556). Pastoral care is not an added-on extra to the preaching and liturgical work you will have in your parishes – it is an integral and important, essential part of the ministry you are being ordained to.

Pastoral care is the ministry of care and counselling provided by those of us who have pastoral responsibilities in our ministry. It presupposes a faith-based foundation on the part of the person offering or providing that care, and an openness to that on the part of the person receiving the pastoral care.

“Pastoral care” can apply as a description to the help and caring we offer to others both in the church and in the wider community. Pastoral care in this sense can be applied to listening, supporting, encouraging and befriending.

Pastoral care, therefore, includes both encouraging parishioners, and bringing new people into the church. The charges to you at your ordination include one where the bishop tells you “to strengthen the faithful, search out the careless and the indifferent, and minister to the sick and the needy, the poor and those in trouble” (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 555).

In many parishes, the priorities in pastoral care are expressed through home visits, hospital visits, work with younger people, work with older people, the care of frail and housebound, and so on. And for many of you, the priorities in pastoral care, and the part you play in it, will be set by the rector of the parish you are sent to.

Pastoral care outside the life of the church may include your ministry in hospitals and in schools. Spirituality plays a role, for example in the overall health – both mental and physical – of people, and so what ever you may learn about theology and psychology will have to be integrated with your understandings of spirituality.

And in hospitals schools you may have to take on the role of advocacy, ensuring others religious sensitivities are respected when it comes to food, funerals and other rituals, or you may have to help them to make contact with their own faith community. And that requires sensitivity to those who have a different spirituality, even a different or contrary set of beliefs. Can you give me examples?

Pastoral care can also be a term generally applied to looking after the personal and social well-being of children under the care of a teacher, or encompass a wide variety of issues including health, social and moral education, behaviour management and emotional support.

And just as I said that if you don’t know the difference between pastoral care and the other caring professions, you will soon succumb to ministerial burnout, if you do not start to rely on the spiritual foundations necessary for pastoral work, you will soon suffer from ministerial burnout too.

The spiritual foundations

So what are the spiritual foundations for pastoral care? I hope we can look at those for this first part of our workshop.

And then, in the second part, I hope we can take a few Bible studies, and see how they reflect or prioritise those spiritual foundations.

All pastoral care is based on a spiritual foundation. It has a biblical and theological basis, and increasingly there are also times when it opens up inter-faith perspectives.

1, Prayer

At the ordination of deacons, you are asked by the bishop: “Will you be diligent in prayer …?” (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 556). And the bishop will declare that because none of us can bear the weight of our responsibilities in our own strength, we needs the prayers of others.

You are committed to a life of prayer. This includes private or personal, private, but also prayer with others on a one-to-one basis, or what we might call bilateral prayer, and prayer in the public domain, what we might call multilateral prayer.

Pray with people, prayer honestly and sincerely for them. But in pastoral care remember to pray for them and their needs, and not for you and what you have decided their needs are.

And remember to be spiritually grounded enough to let them – sometimes even to expect them – to pray for you too. Never be arrogant enough to think you do not need the prayers of someone else, even when you are the person providing pastoral care.

Remember too to constantly renew yourself in prayer. Seek out new resources, be challenged by older resources and traditions in prayer that you may have passed by previously. You cannot expect others to be comfortable all the time with your style of prayer, but as the pastoral carer understand why they are comfortable with their own style.

2, Scripture

The bishop asks you to be “diligent … in reading Holy Scriptures.”

Very often, you will be tempted to slip into the trap of reading the Bible for good quotes and sound bites for sermons, rather than letting the Bible inform you and shape you in your prayer, and also in your pastoral ministry.

Fort example, Christ talks about himself as the Good Shepherd (see John 10: 1-18), and this passage in the Fourth Gospel is often taken as the text for sermons at the ordination of deacons and of priests (see The Book of Common Prayer, p.

But apart from taking Christ as your model, what does this mean in terms of finding spiritual foundations for your work in pastoral care? What is a good shepherd?

Shepherding involves protecting, tending to needs, strengthening the weak, encouraging, feeding the flock, making provision for them, shielding, refreshing, restoring, leading by example, moving people on in their pursuit of holiness, comforting, and guiding (see: Psalm 23; Psalm 78: 52).

The image of the Good Shepherd when it comes to pastoral ministry is not one of martyrdom, but one of practical work. And it is an image that is repeated in Saint John’s Gospel.

The Good Shepherd ... feed the younger ones, and feed and tend the older ones, feed those who are younger in faith, and feed and then those who are more mature in faith.

After the Resurrection, Christ tells Simon Peter: “Feed my lambs” (John 21: 15), “tend my sheep” (verse 16), and “feed my sheep (verse 17). Feed the younger ones, and feed and tend the older ones, feed those who are younger in faith, and feed and then those who are more mature in faith.

Feed them spiritually, feed them prayerfully, and feed them sacramentally. And do that for yourself too.

And draw strength from the advice in Scripture for how to find spiritual strength in ordained ministry. This is found explicitly in the pastoral epistles, the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus.

In the first pastoral letter, Paul sets out the strengths and qualifications of bishops (I Timothy 3: 1-7) and deacons (I Timothy 3: 8-13). For example, deacons must hold fast to the mystery of faith. The word mystery is laden with sacramental meaning. Indeed, as priests you will be told constantly that you are stewards of the mystery of faith.

In II Timothy, Paul urges Timothy, among other things, to rekindle the gift of God within him (1: 3-7), to purify himself (2: 20-26).

In his letter to Titus, Paul sets forth once again what is required of those in ministry.

3, Sacraments

Your ministry includes not only assisting and, after you are ordained priests, administering the sacraments, but in your pastoral care you will also be preparing people for those sacraments too: preparing parents, guardians and godparents for the baptism of children, preparing adults for baptism, preparing people for confirmation, preparing people for Holy Communion, but also for repentance and forgiveness and for marriage.

When you visit hospitals, what do you bring with you? A bag of grapes? The Irish Times? Credit for their mobile phones?

Or do you bring them prayer and the sacraments?

Are you prepared to remember to bring the comfort of the Eucharist and the blessing of oils, and the opportunity to know God’s forgiveness?

Remember, you can only be prepared for this aspect of pastoral care if you too are regular in your reception of the Eucharist, and you are honest in your confession and openness to absolution.

4, Tradition:

The Book of Common Prayer is the repository of much of the spiritual riches of the Anglican tradition. It is not only for use in Church. It is for use for your own personal, spiritual time too. And for use in times of pastoral care.

For example, visiting people in hospital can become a moment of difficulty if you find yourself lost for words or unable to pray.

But those in need of pastoral care will appreciate when you pray with them in words that are familiar and comfortable spiritually: the Psalms, the General Confession, the Collect for Purity, favourite and fondly-remembered collects from Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, or the Canticles, for example.

5, The Church calendar

Be seasonally appropriate with the people too. We all know the opportunities provided by Easter and Christmas. Recently, in the chapel here, we discovered the riches of Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation, in developing themes of darkness and light, birth and death, salvation and redemption.

The Church Calendar provides spiritual riches than enrich and illumine every aspect of pastoral care: think of the potential of helping someone through Lent and Advent, through the joys and promises of Pentecost. The spiritual resources are unlimited.

6, Lifestyle

Spiritual care for yourself is important if you are going to be spiritually caring for others in your pastoral ministry. And this is not always about doing what people may regard as “holy things.”

You must use your resources carefully, and those resources include your time. You must set aside and mark out time for yourself and reading. You cannot expect to be spiritually fit to care for others if you do not take time for yourself, and for your family.

Recreation means re-creation. You must know when you have a day off, when you have a holiday, when you have time to relax. You must find time for friends. You must find time to laze in front of the television … for me it’s watching EastEnders or a rugby match or cricket, or a favourite movie, for example. What is it for you?

Are you going to fit in a family holiday this year, before or after your ordination? If not, why not.

Read regularly, and not just theology. Read history, current affairs, poetry, fiction … In the past week, the author Catherine Fox was here lecturing about the “novelist as theologian.” How many of you read poetry?

To set the scene for next week, let me read you the beginning of TS Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”:

Ash Wednesday
T.S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

7, Openness to the needs of people

Everyone has spiritual needs, whether or not they have a particular religious belief or identify with a faith community.

They need to discuss those spiritual needs, to explore their thoughts or questions, to face the deeper issues raised by many of life’s dilemmas. But there needs are not limited to crisis moments

Pastoral care involves shepherding the flock. But this is a loving way of caring for people rather than controlling them.

Knowing people allows you to accept people, not in the sense of always approving or accepting their lifestyle or choices, but in terms of who they are, who Christ sees them as, for what they can be, without trying to fashion them or be judgmental. For the most humbling discovery is that when we look into the faces of those who need or eek our pastoral care, we are looking into the faces of those who are truly made in God’s image likeness.

And when we look at them honestly, the Good Shepherd looks back at us, and calls us to follow in his path.

Part 2: Three Bible studies:

1, The Syro-Phoenician woman

Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 7: 24-30.

Jesus listens to what her wishes are, not to what his wishes for her are. And in doing that, the two wishes are met.

Is Jesus compassionate in the care he offers this woman?

What are the spiritual differences between them?

What are the spiritual supports and barriers to the care he provides?

2, Blind Bartimeus at the gate of Jericho:

Matthew 20: 29-34; Mark 10: 46-52; Luke 18: 35-43.

Jesus asks him: What do you want me to do for you? (Matthew 20: 32; Mark 10: 51; Luke 18: 41).

By throwing away his cloak away (10: 46-52), Bartimaeus gave up all he had to follow Christ.

Proper pastoral care cannot culture dependence, but appreciates independence.

3, The man healed at the pool

John 5: 1-14.

Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be made well?”

Did he?

Questions for discussion

In each of these stories how do the disciples behave?

What spiritual foundations do you find in these stories?

How does Jesus behave?

How do the disciples behave?

How does the person cared for behave?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a seminar and workshop with Year III students on the Non-Stipendiary Ministry (NSM) course on 6 February 2010.

No comments: