Having taught the subject of pastoral care in seminary for the past seven years this particular ministerial activity of SWEEPS is of special interest to me. Of the various components of SWEEPS, pastoral care is perhaps most generally understood as being the responsibility of the ordained clergy. Let us briefly examine why this is the case and, more importantly, if this should be the case.
We begin with the adjective “pastoral” as defining a particular kind of care. Pastoral refers to the person of the “pastor’’ (from the Greek poimen which means shepherding or being a shepherd). “Pastor” is also a title used in many denominations to refer to the ordained leadership. The “care” which pastors live or practice, in this sense, is seen as professional care based on professional preparation and competence.
Within the last several decades such pastoral care has been reduced to one-to-one pastoral counseling grounded in a psychological understanding of human being. Many critics of contemporary pastoral care accuse pastors of selling their Christian birthright for psychological porridge.
In this age of “psychological man”, there has been a triumph of the therapeutic not only in our culture but within the Church itself. Some indications of this reduction of pastoral care to psychological therapeutics are:
•The priest who states that he or she does not have “adequate training’ to ‘do’’ pastoral care.
- The confusion or reduction of pastoral care to professional counseling.
- The neglect in seeing the Pastoral Offices (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 412ff) and prayer as foundational for pastoral care.
- The assumption that pastoral care is but one of many activities or functions of ministry.
Certain problems result in confining pastoral care to the ordained leadership of the Church and reducing such care to pastoral counseling.
• The pastorate of all believers is diminished. As Christians we are all called to listen to, counsel with, and care for one another.
• The communal dimension of pastoral care is lost. Pastoral care includes, but is more than, simply one-to-one counseling. As Christians, pastoral care presupposes a pastoral community—the Church.
• The prophetic element of pastoral care is forgotten. In addition to the pastoral functions of supporting, guiding, sustaining and reconciling persons experiencing crisis and loss, pastoral care includes issues of individual and social justice.
It is unfortunate that pastoral care is often contrasted with the prophetic task. In fact, Christian fact, the prophetic word, if truly uttered, is grounded in a deep sense of pastoral caring, e.g., as Bishop I confront and correct because I care and love pastorally those I confront and correct.
For many pastoral care is a sort of ‘sloppy agape”, a naive, uncritical, sentimental, soft-hearted, fuzzy sort of love (‘never having to say you’re sorry”) which fails to discriminate or call for repentance. Pastoral care requires our constantly having to say we are sorry!
A way of being
What then is pastoral care? In my Ph.D. dissertation (“A Phenomenology of Pastoral Caring as a Preface to the Concern for Method Within Pastoral Care”) my basic premise is that pastoral caring refers not so much to a ministerial activity or function but more importantly to a mode Sc way of being with others in the world.
‘The mode or way of being with others is a particular kind of caring or love that we call Christian. It takes place within the Christian community, the Church. Its end is healing and reconciliation as a community: reconciliation with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastoral caring in this sense is not “sloppy agape” but intentional, disciplined and discerning love; a habitus or habit grounded in wisdom. If we view pastoral care in this way, we begin to gain some clarity with regard to our original question.
Pastoral care is not simply another ministerial function or activity. Rather, it is the attitude, disposition and Christian way of being in the world that is the basis or foundation for all functions of ministry.
Caring brings healing
The most immediate function that such pastoral caring funds is healing. Healing is perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood of the various functions of ministry, It has been delegated to the medical and psychological community or is seen as a special gift of the Holy Spirit or is in some way associated with ‘faith healing’.
It is not within the scope of this brief article to examine the responsibility that the Church has for healing. This important topic will be addressed in a future article. It is, however, important to note that Jesus performed His healing miracles not because He was out to prove anything (His Sonship) but because He deeply cared for those persons who were diseased broken or isolated from their community.
The final activity of SWEEPS should not be pastoral care but healing. Taking the form of a servant (SERVICE) and living a life of prayer (WORSHIP),our Lord came preaching (EVANGELISM), teaching (CHRISTIAN EDUCATION) and HEALING (grounded in pastoral care). He CARED because God cared for Him and for us by sending His only Son to embody or to make incarnate God’s love and care for us.
Care makes us human
If pastoral care is foundational to all of ministry, we can now perhaps better see that it is the responsibility of all Christians and not simply a professional activity of ordained ministry. Martin Heidegger, the late German philosopher, stated that care is the container of human being. Heidegger said that caring is a peculiar activity of human beings (as distinct from the instinctual care of other animals) which makes us truly human.
Not to care is to be less than fully human. Hence, we see that apathy, indifference, hopelessness and despair, not anger or even hatred, are the opposite of caring. Anger, outrage and righteous indignation, which the prophets experienced, were indeed a deep form of pastoral care.
As parents we correct and discipline our children because we care for and about them. Such care is grounded in a deep sense of love.
As Christians we care pastorally by living a life of service, worship, evangelism, education and healing because we care.
We care because we have been cared for by our loving God.
We care because His love was made known to us in the gift of Gods oily Son, Jesus Christ.
We care because we experience God’s ongoing love in the gift of the Holy Spirit in a community called the Church. Such a community, the Church, is first and finally a loving community that cares.