From a congregational standpoint, I see pastoral care as not only a direct ministry of the church — caring committees to provide food and other resources, lay ministry teams trained and supervised by the minister — but also seeded into all the other things we do as a congregation. I believe that one of our community goals should be teaching and supporting the development of a congregational culture that reaches for the caring, nurturing approach.
And while a lay ministry team is essential to this process, the minister must always remain a part of that process. Trust in a minister is built by the minister showing up when and where they are most needed, such as a bedside visit at the end of life.
My approach to pastoral care, and a major part of my broader call to ministry, is learning people’s stories. The touchstone of my personal theology is that God loves unequivocally and consistently, and that deep, profound, abundant love makes us Real, like the love in The Velveteen Rabbit. Being present to my fellow human beings, recognizing them wholly, and feeling their stories in my own core, is one of the ways I minister. All of my development up to this point, and also going forward, teaches me how to be more present to those around me, and make me a better witness to all the experiences of humanity.
By being present, by opening ourselves up to The Other, we become the I and Thou (Martin Buber). We live into our Christian Universalist roots, as described by Buehrens and Parker in A House for Hope: “Jesus spread a welcome table for all people, and we are called to do the same.” (142) Once we are at the table, we understand each other from a willingness to be vulnerable.
Brene Brown tells us that “You are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” It took me many years to know that as truth, and helping people learn to know that, too, is an essential part of my ministry.