It is something that we like to talk about in the church. But do we know what it is?
Some might say that pastoral care is what happens when a member of the clergy goes and visits a member of the congregation at their home or in the hospital. And certainly this is an important part of pastoral care.
Others might recall a time when St John’s had a “Pastoral Care Team” of specially trained lay members of the congregation who went and visited other members of the congregation in their homes or care residences. This is an equally important part of pastoral care!
However pastoral care is even bigger than both of those things! Pastoral care is how all of us at St John’s provide support, help, and care for each other and for our wider community. It happens especially in times of crisis, illness, or grief – but not always at those times.
Pastoral care is often informal – like having lunch and a good, caring conversation with someone after church or the natural gatherings of friends in a community. It is often unnoticed by those not directly involved, and even those involved may not see their ministry as pastoral care.*
Paul Avis writes that “Pastoral care and oversight are just as much a part of the overall mission of the Church as are the ministry of the word and of the sacraments.”** Calling it a “ministry” doesn’t, however, place the full responsibility for pastoral care in the hands of clergy or specially trained lay members of the congregation. Though there are some situations which will require someone with special training to provide pastoral care – training in listening and counselling, training in spiritual direction, or the ability to bring communion to someone at home or in the hospital.
Primarily, pastoral care is the responsibility of us all. Pastoral care is about how we care for each other – from the longest-serving member of the church to the brand new infant.
It is how we pray for each other in our communal gatherings and around our tables at dinner at home each evening. It is in the conversations we have with each other both at church and in cafes and homes across the city. It is alerting the church office when another member of our church family enters the hospital or has surgery. It is praying for the people who we see lined up to receive food from the Emergency Food Bank downstairs. It is passing the peace with each other on Sunday morning.
For us to reimagine our ways of pastorally caring with and for each other requires us to reimagine our way of thinking about pastoral care. First and foremost it is seeing it as a ministry that we all share!
Over the last couple of months and in the months to come, we are taking an intentional look at what has happened, what is happening, and what could happen at St John’s with regards to formal pastoral care. If you have any thoughts, please email us: pastoral [at] stjohnthedivine.bc.ca
-The Rev Gillian Hoyer
*Much of the definition of “pastoral care” is borrowed from Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal: http://www.montrealcathedral.ca/pastoral-care-1/
**Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission, London: T&T Clark International, 2005, p. 36.