A Pastor in Every Pew: equipping laity for pastoral care
Leroy Howe (Valley Forge: Judson Press) 179 Pages
What is Pastoral Care? Whose “job” is it?
To answer the first question, in the end I think that Pastoral Care is part of everything we do as a church – and everything we do as a church needs to be part of how we offer care to each other's souls/spirits. Worship, Christian Education/Faith Development, proclaiming the Kingdom, sacraments, Scripture study, social/political action, polity & administration – everything we do as the church needs to be about caring for ourselves and our neighbours and helping us grow a deeper faithful relationship with God. Or, as some wise fellow said a few centuries ago “...“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). As we live out those verses we are doing Pastoral Care.
And so the task of Pastoral Care lies with all people of faith. We all have a calling to care for each other and to help each other grow in faith.
That being said, that is not what this book is about.
This book is about the more general understood meaning of Pastoral Care. It talks about the people who are specifically called to walk with those who are hurting or struggling, to listen to them to (to use the term the author prefers) be their shepherd. This is more than just friendly visiting and spiritual chit chat. Some of the examples Howe uses are pretty deep stuff (some deeper than I suspect many lay Pastoral Care teams are really expecting to go). But Howe is clear that his vision of this care does not rely on the person who is paid to do it. He is clear that this is a ministry in which many could, should, and need to be involved. It is part of the work of the Church, not the Pastor alone.
This book is set up to be used as a training manual. And as a person for whom Pastoral Care is the most challenging part of ministry I appreciated it as such. It had some helpful insights that I had not heard before (it is equally likely that either they had not been shared with me or that I was not able to hear them at the time).
There are some things missing in the book. Things around the art of pastoral conversation, the “how to go deeper” piece could have been helpful. Some discussion of what I have heard referred to as pastoral diagnosis, the picking up what is really happening, would have been helpful in a training manual (especially since there was a phrase in the chapter on homework which reads “...had Betty not given the homework, she might not have unearthed some valuable clues...” (p.100)). But the biggest exclusion was in the chapter on confidentiality where he spends the whole time talking about the need to break confidence in issues of imminent harm to self or others and not once mentions the ethical (and usually legal) requirement to break confidence if child abuse and/or neglect (past, present or future) is named or reasonably suspected. This appears to me to be a big miss. In the same chapter he speaks as if shepherds (lay or clergy) can claim the “seal of the confessional” in that he never speaks to the possibility of being called upon in court (admittedly this is likely a more detailed discussion than a introductory piece would contain).
On the whole this is a good book. It got me thinking about how pastoral care as a church-wide piece might work and why it does not seem to happen as readily as (I think) it used to.