Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book 16 or 2016 -- A Pastor in Every Pew

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.

Sensio Divina

Last week we went to a midweek service. The church where I grew up is having once a month services of Forest Church. These are services to encourage connection with the natural world (I note that the next one at the end of August is to celebrate the coming harvest). The July service was held out at a wetland area at this park and invited participants to an experience of Sensio Divina.

Sensio Divina?

Some readers will have heard of (and/or experienced) Lectio Divina, a Spiritual Practice that allows one to sink into a piece of Scripture. Sensio Divina is the same basic idea, except instead of a piece of text one uses some sensory input as the focus of meditation and reflection. Here are JPEG scans of the order of service, which includes a description of the process:

BEfore and after we went out for a walk we paused to center ourselves while listeing to the singing of Galai Star. Then we went out to walk the boardwalk (or other trails in the area) and see what drew us in and drew us to God's PResence.

Some pictures from the evening:

There were two things that I took away from the worship.
1) I would love to do something similar here. Every once in a while someone expresses the thought (which I have had and shared more than once) that it would be nice to do a "different" type of worship once in a while. My vision is an evening worship once a month that uses a variety of different worship experiences. This could be one of them,

2) I had forgotten how wonderful it is to have quiet time by the water. When I worked at Camp I would frequently go out and stroll/sit/pray/sing on the beach in the late evening, after all were in their cabins. When I was in seminary I would periodically go for a walk or a bike ride (season dependent) along the South Saskatchewan River. There is something about water that just holds me (which is a little odd since I am not a swimmer by any means -- I float somewhat like a rock). It reminded me that I need to be better/more intentional at making time to be outdoors in the quiet and allow myself to feel the presence of God.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Book 15 of 2016 -- Getting To Maybe

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed
Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Quinn Patton (Canada: Vintage Canada) 258 Pages

Change, they say, is the only constant in life. But managing (and possibly even directing) change is a really challenging piece of work.

The first thing I really liked about this book is that it is so honest. It is honest that social change/innovation is about complex systems. Not simple. Not just complicated. But complex, intertwined, always changing. This is a piece that we often miss in trying to start or direct change. We treat the system as if it is much more straight-line than human interactions ever are.

Another thing that makes this book so approachable is that it uses lots and lots of stories. Stories make it so much more real.

The title is an interesting choice for a book about change. In our results-driven, success-oriented culture maybe, at first glance, seems to be a mid-point at best. Shouldn't this be about getting to success? Or getting to completion? Or getting to yes? But the authors are clear that in a complex system where uncertainty is a given that maybe is the actual goal. Success is not a given ever, and in fact that methodology outlined in the book points out that learning from things that do not go according to plan is part of how social innovation works.

One of the things that struck me while reading this book was that we spend a lot of time in the United Church talking about the need to be innovative, to try new ways of being the church. And I agree. But more than once as I was reading this very well-laid out description of how social innovation works my thought was (and we in the church do just the opposite”. As an example, the authors talk a lot about the best way to approach evaluation in social innovation – not results oriented, not about meeting indicators, not goal oriented, more about what is learned in each step of trial But in the church, as in so much of the rest of society, we are results and goal oriented, we want to see obvious and measurable results (preferably immediately). Unfortunately, the authors suggest, (and I agree) focusing on those sorts of things too soon is a great way to kill actual innovation, which is about risk-taking. Or on the other side, there are those in the church who are great at hope and vision but not so great at actually looking at the world around the realistically – another way to kill effective social innovation the authors point out. I think the church could learn from these people.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Book 14 of 2016 -- 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting

10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting: Nurturing Your Child's Soul
Mimi Doe with Marsha Walch (United States: HarperCollins) 375 Pages

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, how do we, as parents, honor the spirituality of our children? As we shuttle between school, soccer practice, piano lessons, ballet lessons, birthday parties, and doctors' appointments, how do we find the time to encourage our children, through the ups and downs of growing up, to turn to God for guidance?” (from the back cover)

In this book Doe and Walch outline 10 ways to answer those questions. At times the way they explicate their principles seems very grounded. At others they sound a little “New Ageish” or “airy fairy”. But each to their own. You take what works and leave the rest. And of course this book is aimed at Spiritual parenting in a more generic sense (though one clearly gets the sense that the authors write from a Judeo-Christian mindset) and not specifically aimed at any one faith tradition. Which means that there will need to be a variety of images used.

The 10 principles themselves are:
  1. Know God Cares for You
  2. Trust and Teach That All Life Is Connected and Has a Purpose
  3. Listen to Your Child
  4. Words Are Important, Use Them with Care
  5. Allow and Encourage Dreams, Wishes, Hopes
  6. Add Magic to the Ordinary
  7. Create a Flexible Structure
  8. Be a Positive Mirror for Your Child
  9. Release the Struggle
  10. Make Each Day a New Beginning

This is a well written and helpful book. There were times that would encourage most parents. There are times that would convict most parents. And both of those are needed. There are suggestions that make a lot of sense and seem (in theory at least) easy to put into practise. And, as noted above, the reader is free to pick and choose what works for them and what does not.

Each principle gets its own chapter. At the end of each chapter are 5 things that make the book very worthwhile. There is a section called “Parents' Insight Building Exercise” which invites the parent to reflect (in the form of a guided meditation) on the principle that has just been discussed. There is a set of “Parents' Check-In Questions” which also push for reflection both on their own life and in their relationship with their child(ren) and partner. There is a “Children's Guided Journey”, a guided meditation to use with your child(ren). There is a set of “Children's Check-In Questions” to help encourage discussion with the child about the principle. And finally there are “Affirmations” both for Adults and Children.

I am glad I read this book. Truly there were passages that were difficult to read because I knew that what I do in practice is far less helpful than what was being described (Principles 3, 4, 8, and 9 come to mind). But we need to read those things too. At the same time, there were plenty of good suggestions.

One of the reading goals for this Sabbatical was to do some reading and reflecting on Pastoral Care. I chose to read the book because while Pastoral Care is about dealing with all generations. Much of our talk about Pastoral Care is about elderly individuals and/or people struggling with illness/change/mourning. But Pastoral Care is really about helping people grow in their Spiritual life. These principles are ones that the whole church could take on, not only as parents and grandparents but as part of the village that it takes to raise children. When we baptize a child in the United Church of Canada the gathered congregation makes a promise. Paying attention to books such as this would help us live out that promise.