What is Pastoral Care?

Throughout our transition process, the SSUC community has been invited to share the priorities, values, programs and ministries that are critically important to the work that SSUC does and will do. I want to take a few weeks of blog posts to offer some thoughts on some of these.

One of SSUC’s core identities is “Inspiring Compassion and Connection”. Fitting squarely into this category is the way we connect and care for each other. This is community after all, and positive community means that we aren’t just consumers of a product (that is, coming on Sunday morning to receive teaching or wisdom in exchange for a donation), rather we seek to be relational in our work (that is, all contributing to the work of making a difference in our lives and the world – all while fostering connection and relationships.)

One of the ways this gets expressed in the life of a spiritual community is with the more traditional phrase “pastoral care”. This is actually a confusing phrase and perhaps good that it is used less and less. It implies work that “the pastor” does to care for the members of the congregation. This implication is at worst, wrong; and at best, incomplete. There is a lot of different aspects to the care that we want to be about in community: encompassing our social, relational, physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

This kind of work, for as long as we’ve expressed it within SSUC, has been the shared work of everyone in the community. This happens at so many times and places in life. To name only a few: celebrations of births, adoptions and baptisms, marriages and additions of family members, new commitments, times of illness, losses and deaths, the ongoing journeys of transition, grief, and all manner of engagement with issues, decisions and meaningful work. None of these are areas of one person or one group alone. I would argue this isn’t ‘pastoral’ care. This is HUMAN care. We do this because we’re all a part of each other. None of us are well unless all of us are well. Let’s look at how we are all doing that within community:

  • Yes, the minister or ministers do play a part. It’s a privilege to be invited into these intimate and sacred moments of life, but also in the ordinary days, connecting with invitations to know more about each other and what compels us to contribute to community.
  • Our “congregational care committee” coordinates much of the caring that happens person to person within the community and in coordination with the minister(s). This committee does fantastic work, but isn’t limited to the members of that team: they represent and coordinate countless people who do a great deal of visiting, phoning and keeping folks connected and cared for.  But even that isn’t the extent of our care.
  • Whenever we share joys and concerns within a gathering, we are helping the process of care and connection. As we learn about what other folks are going through – what is on their minds and in their hearts, we’re better able to reach out to them, to connect around common needs, fears, joys and sorrows.
  • There are some fringe benefits to us practicing (as in, having a regular discipline) with each other. Caring for each other within a connected and healthy community prepares us and helps us to stir our compassion and enlarge our loving in other areas of our lives. If we can know and feel what it’s like to care for others and be cared for by a whole community, we can know and feel our way into what it will be like to create that kind of loving, caring community in our homes, families, workplaces, and community groups. That’s how we change the world, one person at a time.

I want to always encourage us to think about our care and connection as a communal effort. It’s not one person’s “job”, nor is it something to be siloed as only a few people’s responsibility. Being relational is the heart of everything we do with each other. Of course we can always improve in how we’re coordinated and encouraged, and how we structure the organization of our shared work. But we should never abdicate our own place and importance in the system. I have a role, our congregational care committee has a role, those with specific connecting tasks have a role, and each and every one of us have a role in the way we live out the privilege and responsibility of being part of a caring and connected community. Let’s celebrate and hold that as we enter whatever next phase of life awaits us as SSUC: Spiritual Seekers United in Community.



Gatherings at 10AM Sundays