holding hands pastoral  “Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” — Leo Buscaglia

For  many people, pastoral care is the defining quality of a minister. Even when serving a large congregation, there tends to be a high level of expectation that the congregation’s minister/s will be approachable, warm, and “someone they can talk to.” These qualities are deeply subjective, and yet so essential to the ministries I have created throughout the years.

There are some bedrock principles I hold as a pastoral leader. They include:

  • believing that people are capable of finding their own solutions, with care and support as well as appropriate resources;
  • what people often need most is “a good listening to;”
  • the practice of Compassionate Communication (also known as “NVC” – Non-violent Communication)is an essential pastoral and public tool – see http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/pdf_files/4part_nvc_process.pdf;
  • the greatest gift we can give one another is a “being-with” on the journey.

I have walked with people as they give birth, raise children, decide to marry, come out as LGBTQ, contemplate or go through divorce, face serious illness in themselves or others, consider suicide or live through the suicide of a loved one, experience trauma as an individual or community member, face death or survive the death of their most beloveds, among other things. When we face life’s joys and struggles with others willing to listen, companion us, and be present to us on the journey – this is pastoral care.

At the same time, I think it’s important to note that congregations also own their own pastoral ministries. Congregations with a mission and a passion to reach beyond their walls and offer the saving message of Unitarian Universalism should understand that without a radical welcoming strategy and a deeply pastoral presence among members, congregational growth is unlikely. People want to be known and cared for within religious community. This means that, as people of faith working to create the Beloved Community, we must also take our place and part in the circle of care.

In the congregations I serve, I work to create a strong Lay Pastoral Caregivers team. More than just “friendly visitors,” these are members with a gift for connection and who train with the Minister to be able to be with members and friends in the significant times of their lives. While I am always available for those most serious life events, it takes more than just a minister to effectively care for the pastoral needs of a growing congregation.

For congregations looking to develop their pastoral presence skills, I recommend the book Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say, by Nancy Guilmartin.