Monday, 22 August 2011

Caring Pastorally

For those of you with an interest, my specialism as (I hope) a Recognised Lay Minister will be in Pastoral Care. I consider this specialism a crucial and integral part of both lay and ordained ministry, and there was absolutely no question that it was marked out for me on this journey. As members of my interview panel volunteered, there are some incumbents who would benefit from pastoral care training! 

For me, it is the next (small? huge?) step on a path that may lead to ordination; it is a desirable skill and vocation in its own right, as well as a necessity if I am ministering to a flock/hospital/prison/insert appropriate God-decreed situation. In the Church of England we use words like priest, deacon and vicar, but I love the term pastor as it's what a leader SHOULD be, tending to the broken lives of a congregation and community (oh, as well as helping them in their relationships with God and scripture, of course.)

Still, at this stage I remain a little sceptical about the intrinsic value of Christian pastoral care from a ministry perspective. Christian counselling? Surely that won't have a professional basis. People have to study for years to earn 'true' counselling qualifications. One of my friends sniffed at the idea that I would be taught how to counsel people, although the course is designed and written by a fantastic counsellor (who happens to be ordained.) And can/must we always bring God into it? Surely pastoral care is a gift which can't be taught; or is it something that everybody should be doing or is able to do? I have all these questions!

I was hoping some of them would be answered by doing a little preliminary reading, but starting this book has only confirmed my fears:
"professional help can never be a substitute for the healing and supportive relationships provided by friends, family and colleagues, nor for the pastoral care which should be an inherent part of the life of a Christian community." (Litchfield, K 2006: xi.)
Now, I am sure the minister writing the book is being careful to big up the existing support people have, but I wonder if she is doing professional, qualified counsellors down here. Because yes, although if you have all the beneficial professional counselling in the world, yet don't have pastoral community care and healthy relationships around you (outside of the counselling context), this doesn't mean you can necessarily function any better. BUT I know from a variety of personal experience that sometimes if you don't get professional help, and this can be counselling, medication, or a combination, you are going to break completely. No amount of religious comfort and community is necessarily going to help that. It reminds me of the people who think that you only need to pray right to get through depression, or think that feeling detached from God due to mental health problems is a sin. Sometimes professional help is the only thing that will get people through.

Still, that's only the foreword to the book which I haven't dipped into otherwise and has good reviews, so we shall see! And there's always that Course Folder to get down from the shelf and delve into, and a book list to order from Amazon. I just wonder where that amateur/professional boundary lies....and what are the real differences between Christian and secular counselling....and look forward to learning the answers to my questions as my course progresses.

Reference: Litchfield, K 2006 Tend My Flock: Sustaining Good Pastoral Care. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press.

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