Pack Up Your Sorrows: Pastoral Care in a Changing Church, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

There are some people who never let anything get them down. They are like the little boy who bragged to his father about what a great hitter he was. Finally the father said, �all right, show me!�  So the little boy got his softball and his bat and went out into the back yard.  The father stood over to the side while the boy tossed the ball up into the air and then swung the bat with all his might.  �Strike 1,� he said after he had missed the ball completely.  �Strike 2�, after he missed again.  �Strike three!,� as he missed still again.  Then he turned to his father with a determined glow on his face.  �Boy, am I a great pitcher!�

            Perhaps you�ve heard the story about the  man who walked into his doctor's office and said, "Doctor, I've eaten something that disagrees with me."  A voice from the man's stomach says, "No, you haven't."

            Do you know why I usually start my sermons with funny stories?  Because the Bibles tells me to! That�s right. The book of  Ecclesiastes says: �A merry heart is a good medicine: But a broken spirit drieth up the bones,� so I try to start you off with a merry heart, and indeed we might even say that pastoral care is about working with broken spirits, so that I�m doing pastoral care every time I get you to laugh.

My colleague, Maureen Killoran writes for an honoring service to remember someone:

We didn't ask to be born.
We do not ask to die.
Whatever comes before or after,
This interval between is what we have.  It is our time.
May we here and now resolve

To live a little more closely to our values, To care a little more deeply for others, To risk a little more often, And, on this day, may we tell someone very clearly That they are valued, and they are loved.

This is what we can do to honor (name the person to be remembered).
This is what we can do for the love of a friend.

(Here I will do what I always do at the end of a service, extinguish a white taper that was kindled as the service began).

There is sadness and there is joy.
There is loss and there is love.
Let there be stories born out of silence And laughter shaped from the gift of tears.  May our memories be holy And may our lives And the lives of all beings Be whole.

            What is pastoral care? Sometimes the term is confusing because we don�t tend to use the word pastor in referring to our clergy, and the other meaning of the word pastoral is country or rustic - as in a tranquil pastoral scene in painting. But the meaning of pastoral care is primarily the covenantal duties of a priest or other religious leader that involve looking after the people he or she has responsibility for, especially by helping them with their personal problems in times of illness or crisis. Most hospitals now have pastoral care departments with chaplains who may be interfaith to help patients who would like to be visited. Interestingly, Cleveland Clinic now calls it �The Spiritual Care Department� which �provides for the religious and spiritual needs of those who come through our doors, including patients, their families and loved ones, and Cleveland Clinic staff and employees.

Our clinically trained chaplains are committed to providing appropriate and compassionate spiritual care while respecting each individual�s own faith tradition and religious or spiritual beliefs.  You may want to request a Spiritual Care referral if:

     * You are feeling anxious, frightened, or upset about your health condition.
     * You are struggling with what it means to you to be ill or wondering why this has happened.
     * You have received bad news or are facing a difficult decision.
     * You are having trouble sorting out your feelings and thoughts.
     * You have religious questions, or would like someone to pray with.
     * You want to receive a religious sacrament or rite.
     * You are grieving over a loss, especially loss due to your illness or injury.
     * You are facing life-changing issues or are wondering about end-of-life issues.
     * You need help to find appropriate spiritual support within your own faith tradition.�

            Indeed these would be good reasons to call your minister as well!

            Sometimes using the word, pastoral, puts some of us off, because the term is from the old tradition. Pastor sounding like someone who is a shepherd who herds sheep and by God we�re not sheep, we�re cats! And just try herding cats! Yes we need the care that ministry brings, we need one another, we need spiritual care at times when our spirits are burning low.

            One of the trainings that lay people can take is from the American Cancer Society and is called Life after Loss grief counseling workshops but is also available for clergy as well as therapists, nurses, social workers, etc. I took it when I was in San Antonio and led annual workshops for many years. This is the poem that starts it:

The After Loss Credo
I need to talk about my loss.
I may often need to tell you what happened-
            Or to ask you why it happened.
Each time I discuss my loss, I am helping myself
            Face the reality of the death of my loved one.

I need to know that you care about me.
I need to feel your touch, your hugs.
I need you just to be with me.
            (and I need to be with you.)
I need to know that you belief in me and in my
            Ability to get through my grief in my own way
            (and in my own time.)

Please don't judge me now-
            Or think that I'm behaving strangely.
Remember I am grieving.
            I may even be in shock.
            I may feel afraid.  I may feel deep rage.
            I may even feel guilty.  But above all, hurt.
I'm experiencing a pain unlike any I've ever felt before.

Don't worry if you think I'm getting better
            And then suddenly I seem to slip backward.
Grief makes me behave this way at times.
And please don't tell me you 'know how I feel.'
            Or that it is time for me to get on with my life.
            (I am probably already saying this to my self.) What I need now is time to grieve and to recover.

Most of all, thank you for being my friend.
            Thank you for your patience.
            Thank you for caring.
            Thank you for helping, for understanding.
            Thank you for praying for me.
And remember, in the days or years ahead,
            After your loss-when you need me.
            As I have needed you-I will understand.
And then I will come and be with you.   Barbara hills LesStrang

            While I was Googling �pastoral care,� I found this helpful paragraph from a church: �At St. John�s, Episcopal, we believe in the concept of mutual ministry. In that regard, pastoral care is not just care by the pastor for the parishioners. We define pastoral care as how we, individually and collectively, reach out to one another in the name of Christ.� I�d like to find out how many members they have because they go to list their pastoral care team that does everything from baby-sitting to putting roses on the altar for every newborn! They are well organized and obviously have a lot of people on the pastoral care team. but it�s also obvious that pastoral care is an important element for their community.

            So we are developing our pastoral care into a ministry of the church by transforming the present care committee and developing a more proactive approach with a lay care associates program where there will be training available for a few people to be like chaplains, and a coordinated team of folks who will be visiting, writing cards, calling, bringing meals, etc., and we have have a new student in our church in District  Commissioned Lay Leader Program for pastoral care, Cindy Simerly, who will be working closely with me and whose mentor will be Peggy Clason, the retired minister who is on the District Commissioned Lay Leader Board and usually does pastoral care for me when I�m away. The minister will still be in charge of pastoral or spiritual care, but we can expand the care we can give the church this way as we realize the ministry of the church goes beyond just the minister. I will still be available 24/7 for emergencies, and will still encourage you to call me at home if you need to talk or know someone who you think might need pastoral care.

            But pastoral care is also about relationship, and sometime having different people available might be more helpful for people. Indeed, sometimes having someone of a different gender is helpful. And we�re a church in transition from what was called pastoral size to what is now called program centered, when churches grow. So while we�re not growing  fast, we�re changing, and that can cause anxiety and a change in expectation about pastoral care where the minister does everything to where the ministry of the church is shared. And especially where we are a crossroads church drawing members and friends from at least 39 zip codes!   And sometimes with hospital stays being only one to three days, my schedule might not permit me to get to see a person if someone is at a hospital downtown, for instance. And of course, not everyone wants a visit.

            And here are some hints for hospital visiting, what I like to call, �hospital visitation for dummies!�

-It�s always a good idea to call before one visits, especially these days, because the person might not be in the room when you get there otherwise! They might be out for tests, rehab, etc.
-Knock on the door and call out their name before you go in. Let them invite you in. This is their residence; respect their privacy.
-Keep it short. After five or so minutes, prepare to leave, and maybe you�ll be invited to stay longer. Often patients are tired or don�t feel their best and may want to rest. It�s much better to be invited to stay longer than it is to be wished gone!
-Don�t take it personally if the person says they are tired and has to sleep now. They are probably not hinting; they probably are tired and want to sleep now. That�s why they are there!
-Sit down beside them; don�t make them look up to you or strain to see you.
-Touch them. Hold their hand; touch their arm (but not around an IV or bandage). Show them you care, but only if you really do, and it seems appropriate. Watch for any pulling away, and stop immediately if you sense resistance.
-Ask them how they are doing, not how they are feeling. Usually they�re not feeling well or they wouldn�t be there, but they may be doing well despite that.
-Don�t ask too many questions about their health; let them tell you.
-DON�T TELL THEM HORROR STORIES ABOUT SOMEONE YOU KNOW OR READ ABOUT IN THEIR SAME CONDITION! (My uncle has the same thing you do and he died...)
-In fact, try not to bring ANY bad news; be positive.
-If they have already have a visitor, say hello and tell them you�ll come back in a little while. (It might give the other visitor a hint, or you might be invited in as well.)
-Don�t bring food unless you know it�s OK with the doctor or nursing.
-If you know you�re going to visit again, ask them if there�s anything they would like you to bring-a magazine, a newspaper, something from their family, etc.
-Often times you don�t have to worry about what you�ll talk about, find out what they�d like to talk about.
-Sometimes people just want someone to sit there with them and hold their hand or just be with them while they sleep.
-The doctor or nurse is not allowed to tell you much if anything about how the patient is doing because of privacy laws. Don�t expect them to. On the other hand, if you detect something unusual about the patient while you are visiting, let the nurse know. (Is the patient being delusional, short of breath, etc.?) Again, the nurse might not be able to tell you much, but your information could be helpful to the nurse.

            Obviously we might stay longer when we visit someone at home, but again. sometimes it the theology of presence that is important, being there with someone, listening and caring. I often check in with folks on Sunday or sometimes with a phone call to see how they�re doing.  Pastoral counseling is also important at certain times, and is different from psychotherapy, it is more like relational and spiritual listening and advice and maybe referral. It is always short term, but can help people try to sort out problems  or give resources for some possible solutions or answers.

            Pastoral care is the hardest part of ministry perhaps because it is the deepest and most intense, because it deals literally with life and death issues and everything in between; it dredges up emotions of our own. from the depths our experiences and grief and lays us bare. My first memorial service was in 1982, so I have done a few, but sometimes in the middle, I�ll start to choke up and wonder if I can finish. Oh, I always have, and I was able to co-officiate at both my parents' services, but not without tears while I was preparing and not without tears since then at various times.

            You�d think it would get easier, but it�s just the opposite, I guess, as I remember the beloved church members and the beloved relatives.  Cathie and I have both lost our parents and so many aunts and uncles. Even moving away from friends and family has been like a death, of course, all part of that experience of life, the river flowing on and we a part.

            Yesterday I spent a couple hours with a woman who is two years younger than I dying of liver cancer and planning her memorial service. She had been raised in the West Shore UU Church, but now lives in Newbury and hasn�t attended a church in years, so she found the nearest UU church and called me to basically hire the church and me for her memorial service. That�s not unusual.  I talked with she and her family, her two grown daughters, two brothers, her husband, as we explored her life through tears and laughter and also about how we felt about death and what comes next. She was a school psychologist and I found myself thinking that she and her husband would make great members here; but she will soon be gone, probably within six months.

            Of course, none of us know where we will be in six months. Some of us may be dead. All the more reason to make life worth living and to love and help and be with one another.

            Bradford Smith writes in Dear Gift of Life, (adapted for inclusive language) �So comes the next opening--the sense of being part of a universe, of a personal relatedness to all life, all growth, all creativity.  Suddenly one senses that one�s life is not just one�s own little individual existence, but that one is bound in fact to all of life, from the first splitting off of the planets, through the beginning of animate life and on through the slow evolution of humanity. It is all in us and we are but one channel of it. What has flowed through us, flows on, through children, through works accomplished, through services rendered; it is not lost. Once given the vision of one�s true place in the life stream, death is no longer complete or final, but an incident. Death is the way--the only way--life renews itself. When the individual has served his purpose as a channel, the flow transfers itself to other channels, but life goes on.�

            The great Catholic writer, Henry Nouwen, from Resentment to Gratitude has a quote I have often seen when talking about ministry that I have found to be inspiring and so true- �Ministry is the profession of fools and clowns telling everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see that life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be entered into.�

            May we enter the mystery together, loving and helping one another.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and  one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. �Vaya con Dios� is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is �Go with God,� So I adapted it to say �Vaya Con Su Dios,� �Go with your idea or interpretation of God.�

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios

Event type
Worship Service