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Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Realm of Grief

November 8, 2021
Posted in Grief & Loss
November 8, 2021 Sara K Schneider

Christians might call those who visit families going through grief or life challenges their pastoral care team or visitation ministry. Jewish congregations might call their congregational practice of visiting the sick or in need Bikur Cholim. Compassionate members of congregations and spiritual groups across Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as other groups, also visit those who are anticipating or grieving a loss. Across all religions, illness, death, and grieving are central to the practice. Pastoral care and counseling should address grief and loss, as many turn to faith to answer these issues.

Whatever you call those members of your congregation who offer compassion and pastoral care to the those who are wrestling with difficult news or life situations, they are are a godsend to clergy who use them well.

Do you recognize yourself in the stereotype of the minister or rabbi, or imam who feels as though he or she must answer every call for pastoral care rather than to delegate?

Keep in mind that, just because a congregational member asks for you, that doesn’t mean you need to be the one to provide the care they need. The actual solution that answers what they need may be different from what they’re able to identify as the solution they want.

Do you have the resources to implement pastoral care and counseling on your own?

For a moment, compare the solution you’ve come up with—that it has to be you who makes every visit—with a saying in the consulting world. There, it’s a maxim that what the client identifies as their need is very often not the actual need, when you consider what actually works. We are notoriously bad at identifying our own solutions.

It’s natural for most congregation members to believe that pastoral care and counseling need to come from “the top,” from the person who is their spiritual leader. However, a good part of spiritual care—much as clergy may hate to admit it—actually comes from  being there with a quiet and supportive presence, something that some members of your congregation may already be providing through a bereavement ministry or care ministry. Perhaps that care could be provided more systematically by such a group that already exists by investing time in its professional development. Or if, as many rabbis and pastors say, your congregation’s care ministry has gone unnurtured for some time, maybe it is time to go ahead and ask the people you keep meaning to ask to be part of that care ministry.

It takes discipline to examine your own belief about whether you think that pastoral care can only come from you. Have you not, after all, devoted your life to religious care, leadership, and education in part because you want to foster a caring community within your midst? Consider that it may be your job to cultivate the spiritual gifts of your community by multiplying your efforts at least as much as to provide pastoral counseling directly.

So how might you multiply your pastoral care and counseling impact when there’s only one of you?

(There’s still only one of you, even if you have clerical colleagues.)

By providing pastoral care training for members of your congregation. You can do this in-house if it’s your forte, or make it a priority in your congregational budget.

Multiplying efforts is just that: finding ways that the hours you put in for pastoral care and counseling help more than a single individual. Here are some fresh ways to think about how your congregation members can receive the care they need:

  1. When appropriate and with permission, by grouping care to more than one person in the same situation at once.
  2. By asking those who request a pastoral visit to bring family members or close friends into the session so that you can instruct them on how to provide further support to each other.
  3. By setting up ongoing support groups devoted to topics such as grieving or parenting in which those who receive care stay on to provide it for others.
  4. By focusing on capacity-building. In other words, recognizing that the time you invest now in building congregational bench strength with pastoral education will allow some of the load for pastoral care and counseling to be delegated to other members of your clergy.
  5. Such training can be provided online and, when done in groups, especially with you participating as a member, can reinforce how a particular method is used for congregational care and especially how referrals to members of the team can happen.

In conclusion, think MULTIPLY. Every hour you spend in pastoral care and counseling should lead to multiple hours of benefit for your congregation. Find ways to build their capacity and their ability to act on their care for each other, whether through a well-supported bereavement ministry or by making groups the focus of your pastoral time. It’s a shift of perspective that, in the long run, will advance congregational goals.

Multiply your efforts with THE HUMAN JOURNEY®

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® provides training that supports the work of bereavement ministries by preparing both clergy and congregational members to guide families and small groups through a process designed for those going through grief or other life challenge. THJ helps each member draw insights from what has happened, comfort from the resources they have found in the past, and confidence in a positive shared future. It is especially helpful in dealing with questions of meaning for families that have spiritual differences. Congregational THJ Conductors need only be warm and willing to hold the ground rules of the THJ Experience to be successful.

We welcome you to consider joining us for one of our upcoming THE HUMAN JOURNEY® trainings. Feel free to schedule a live demo with Founder Dr. Sara K. Schneider.