Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Realm of Grief

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.

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