Pastoral Care

Dear Friends,

I would like to raise the issue of ‘pastoral care’ at St. Andrew’s.

‘Pastoral care’ is a vague term and another word for it would simply be ‘love’. When we seek to love someone by caring about them and serving them in a difficult time (long or short), we are doing pastoral care. That phrase ‘difficult time’ covers a whole range of issues: an illness (physical or mental), a spell in hospital, a bereavement, depression, the challenge of caring for another, someone who is housebound, relationship breakdown, experience of abuse, loneliness…

As I think about our church, it strikes me that:
Most pastoral care is not specialist care. Some of it needs to be – when a counsellor is required or expert knowledge is necessary. But most of the time it’s a question of recognising that loving this person means they need a visit, or a phone call, or a meal or…
Most pastoral care is done by most of the church congregation, by people looking out for each other through networks of relationships developed in small groups, shared activities or services and then, without any level of organisation, simply ‘getting on with it’ because it’s the loving and Christ-like thing to do.

In a big church (like ours), this network of relationships is all the more important. In a smaller church, the vicar or leadership team is likely to discover quickly that someone is struggling and in need of support. But in a larger church it is impossible for the vicar (certainly this vicar!) and a few individuals to always notice that someone is missing or having a tough time. We depend on our network of relationships.

Not all pastoral care needs have to be met by the church – we are not the solution to every problem and often there are other friends, family and organisations in the frame. Church is part of the picture but not the whole picture. Of course, some people will be more vulnerable or need to lean more heavily on the love of the church; we need to be alert to that and therefore…

Some pastoral care needs organising – either because it’s too much for one or two people to undertake themselves; or because the need requires someone with a particular skill or experience to help; or because it’s the sort of thing where someone has been delegated with a particular task, like taking communion to a housebound person; or because the person in need is somewhat isolated from others, or new to the church and likely to fall between the cracks.

And so sadly, sometimes, our pastoral care is inadequate. We forget someone, we don’t notice someone is missing or struggling and it’s too long before anyone offers to help or visit.
It is this last thought that makes me want to ask, what do we need to do differently or better? As things stand, our organised pastoral care ‘system’ includes:
• A small group of people who meet with me once a month to share knowledge of anyone we are aware of who might need particular care or prayer, especially if others might not already be caring for them.
• A prayer chain, which includes a smallish group of people who have committed to pray confidentially for any needs presented to them. You can ask one of the clergy if you would like something to go onto the prayer chain.
• A small number of individuals (which includes, but is not limited to, the clergy) who are willing to visit or take communion to people at home or in hospital.
• And Snack ’n’ Chat, which deserves special mention as a group which dedicatedly seeks to love and befriend people at difficult times of life.

I have two questions: do you think there are ways we can do better? – please let me know.
And are there ways in which you would like to offer to help? – again, I would be delighted to hear from you, however tentative you might be.

With love in Christ,

Joe Dent

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