Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Why 'Pastoral Care' can be a really bad idea ...

Yesterday I found this thoughtful and provocative piece from the Vicar of All Soul's, Whittington (Richard Franks) on 'Why “Pastoral Care” can be a really bad idea…'

'Seriously. Who wants to be an item on someone’s “to do” list?
It’s ok if it’s a professional carer - a doctor, home-help, therapist or nurse… perhaps even, on occasion, a vicar.
But in church life - and in life in general - that’s not something we long for when the road is difficult and we need some companionship and a helping hand along the way.
People don’t need ‘Pastoral Care’ - we need friends.
Church can’t magic up friends, enforce them through structures or events, or organise their care through rotas or paid staff.
We can - and must - provide a community where friendships can flourish and where we learn what true friendship (“going the extra mile”, “laying down our lives”) looks like.
Don’t let’s over-professionalise or over-rota that which should be relational and natural.'

I like what Richard has written for a number of reasons and yet I am aware of a small area of unease embedded somewhere within it too for other reasons. Let me attempt to explain:

Having lived for some considerable time in the past where my family was merely another of the cases on the case load of a social worker, the one thing I longed for was the putting aside of the ersatz friendship that our many encounters came wrapped in. The assignment of us to a 'care professional' was, or should have been in my view, an invitation to a developing relationship. The same is true of those in a Church setting when it comes to a 'Pastoral Care' scenario.

Having been put on a 'To do' list means that (I hope) a visit will be forthcoming and working on the assumption that strangers are merely friends I haven't yet met, this is the first step in the growing of a relationship. Even when they become friends, the visits to friends homes, or meeting in the local Costa (or our home?), still needs to be diarised (even if they occur outside of work time). Being put on 'a list' isn't any more of a problem than being placed on a diary as an entry. The attitude towards, and the development of the encounters, is the important thing.

If someone is a member of our church then hopefully they will find themselves passing from 'person on a pew' through to 'acquaintance' and, I hope, pass into that state which we call 'friend' and finally pass into being 'family'.

Where I am everyone who comes has friends and we are family - but like all families we have members of it who have closer relationships with some than others. And like families, those who are closer care for any who have a need as a natural expression of family. I, being on the 'friend - meaning acquaintance - level, visit as friend and yet realise this, and even visits from closer friends, still attracts the label 'Pastoral Care'.

Richard is spot on when he says that people want a friend when trouble comes a visiting and he makes a valid point when he says that the church (meaning all the members - not just the cleric) should be the source of relationship and support. This cannot, well should not, be regimented or restricted to rotas, care teams and the like - but we should remember that every first 'pastoral care' visit is an invitation to friendship (and I have many of these visits arise where there is no relationship before the first encounter).

Pastoral care is merely the label we affix to the care and concern that should naturally occur in Church - the 'to do' list adds weight to their presence in a sometimes heavy diary load and the rota prompts us to visit when other things would conspire to put our desires (and we do want to visit don't we?) onto the back burner until we realise they've never been met!

So I commend Richard's blog entry for it is a provocative and rightly-fixed piece. It asks the questions and, perhaps ironically, sets the parameters and voices the oft unspoken elements of the what and how Church as family should be. It is an invitation to dialogue that should not be passed by.

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

You are quite right that being church is about relationships. One of love, cherish and nurture of each other. One where strangers become friends and family through that relationship of love and fellowship we're called directly by Jesus to become. "Love each other as I have loved you" sums it up.

Pastoral care is about those relationships, but it's also about boundaries and awareness of the risks involved (hence the diary entries you speak off). As my former Vicar once told me as we together dealt with the family of a casualty from Afghan, you need to be vulnerable, but guard against living the problems brought to you. Being alongside someone means "one foot in the stream, with the other grounded on the bank" your safety and the safety of the cared for being the primary responsibility of the care offered.