Monday, January 20, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 1) Listening to a great

Last October I posted about dear Ron Messenger' funeral. As I am disposing of old papers (a long tedious process) I have just come across yellowing copies of a course he led for our Cambridge church over eight Wednesday evenings in 1992. Titled: Introduction to Pastoral Care  it was open to everyone and 45 people enrolled.  I marvel at that!  Such was his love among us that a large group signed up.  Commitment involved everyone not only promising to attend the whole course but also to write 1500 words on one of three areas: loss, conflict or loneliness.  This was the real deal.

I can hear Ron's voice as I turn the pages. Isn't that a tribute to him?  Did we realize at the time the privilege of listening to a saintly practitioner distill his life's learnings.  A practitioner who had devoted his life to giving pastoral care, who really modelled his teaching. Yes, he talked the talk but walked the walk in a very demanding, costly area of life - humans meeting other's needs.

In recognition of this special time I need to share a little from these notes before they disappear alongside many other old files. Sadly my notes are not complete.  I only have full notes of Session 1. Beginning where we are, Session 2 The value of one. and Session 4. Pooling our resources. Hopefully you find it worthwhile dipping into these three.  Sometimes I am able to quote directly (in italics). At other times I may edit.  There are many more Bible references than I include.

Session 1: Beginning where we are (Lk. 10:25-37) Jesus refutes a religion that is just an academic, theological or devotional exercise. His focus is on human need. Love has no meaning apart from persons. Pastoral care is not something one person does to another, but rather experiences with another, entering into another's world; interaction at a point in need.'  We must begin where we are with honesty.  There is no room for pretence or idealism.  Our motives 'are not to be perpetually introspective but it is helpful sometimes to stop and ask: e.g. Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this course?  What is it about pastoral care that attracts me?  Our understanding of our motives may change but we need to submit them to the Spirit of truth and love'.

And a key section: Strengths, weaknesses and needs.   Call to Christian service is not because we're strong, clever, wise, experienced. They may be assets but they are fragile (1 Cor. 1:26-2:9) The Strong One etc. is often a fantasy fostered by ourselves or by those who need us to be unfailingly like that.  Pastoral care is not the ever-strong serving the weak, nor the wise telling others what to do. As human beings we are a mixture of strength and weaknesses. To acknowledge that, and not to reject or distorts either strengths or weaknesses is an essential step in realizing our potential and understanding our vulnerability and finding common ground with the person we are helping.
And needs? Don't confuse them with weakness. The root human needs - to love and be loved and to be useful are present in all of us, fulfilled or not. Every carer needs to be cared for.
Beware the big self-deception: 'I don't need anyone' 

The session concluded with Boundaries and BalanceIn caring for others some hard truths quickly emerge like: No one can solve all the problems, carry all the burdens, meet all the needs...that's clear in the calling of the twelve.  Every carer must observe boundaries of time, responsibility, energy, involvement and the balance between general care and particular care, input and output, work and rest.

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