Companions on the Journey
Accompanying people through life is the root of all ministry. Pastoral conversations birth Beloved Community. The conversations may be about the joys, delights, and difficulties of relationship; pains of illness, disability, or social oppression; grief in loss; worries about loved ones; or fears about the future. Whatever the content, these are the conversations that bring us closer together.
Elders: A Privileged Place
In my year of pastoral care responsibility at All Souls Church in Washington, DC, I learned how much I appreciate spending time with the eldest among us. I listened to tales from 100-year-old women and learned about their work in earlier days at the church. I learned from the first woman Board President and the first woman attorney at the Department of Justice. I held the hands of a dying man. I sang at the bedside of a woman with no surviving friends of her generation.
When time is short, moments of tenderness grow ever more important. Being invited into those moments is one of the great privileges of ministry.
Congregants Ministering Together
The minister is not the only one to hold congregants in care. One minister cannot meet the emotional, practical, and spiritual needs of every single person in a congregation. But one minister can help to grow a congregation in which members minister to one another.
Having a committed, trained cadre of lay pastoral caregivers is essential for the development of this community we seek together. As the minister, training and supporting this team is an essential part of my work. That means talking about and providing training around respite care, reproductive loss, grief, sexual assault and abuse, depression and other mental health issues, healthy boundaries, letting go, and especially the development of support systems for caregivers.
No one minister can be there for everyone in a congregation all at once. A whole congregation, though, can accompany one another with the leadership and support of their ordained minister. I look forward to this collaborative work with you.
At the End of the Day
There are, of course, conversations only the minister will have. There are situations — family concerns, issues of sexuality, guilt and trauma, and other deep wounds — that will be shared only in the confines of the minister’s office.
Loving listening, caring attention to the stories we share, and commitment to confidentiality are essential for effective pastoral care. I seek to make my office a sanctuary. I believe it must be a safe and sacred place, a place of welcome and of love, and that is what I hope my congregants find there.