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By Sylvia Friedman
River Road Unitarian Church in
Bethesda, MD, is a large church—1400 members, with only ONE
minister! When Bill Murry left to become President of
Meadville/Lombard, Sylvia Friedman was on search committee, and
realized there was a great void in pastoral care. She met with the new
minister, Rev. Scott Alexander, to start the process, which took fourteen
There are presently two pastoral care teams at River Road. The
first team has eight people, all retired; the second team has seven
people, half are retired and half are age forty to sixty-five.
They have worked with fifty-three families; made thirty-five visits to homes,
hospitals, nursing homes; made many phone calls; and worked with eighty
families and individuals as of last week, including the terminally ill,
acutely ill, and those in nursing and retirement homes. They drive
people to church every week and provide respite care (relieving the
Much planning goes into how to help a family or person: teams
meet in two or three to discuss before action is taken. Sylvia strongly
recommends that you start with a mission statement; think about what
you want to do, and don't want to do. Think about the size of the
church, the number of people available, their hours of availability,
their professional background, and what are the needs of the church
(older members) (maybe a buddy system, medical equipment loan program).
It's really important to have people with a mental health
background if you're dealing with people with major life transitions,
or are really emotionally upset. Pick your programs, start slow, and do
it well. Don't take on too much
Meet twice a month for overview discussions. Friedman said that she
cannot overemphasize the importance of confidentiality; you must
develop the trust of the confidentiality. Only the minister and the
pastoral care team knows who's being seen, but what's being said is
confidential. Permission is always asked for the kinds of help given.
River Road Church had a strong commitment to training, and
giving people ownership of the pastoral care process, to get them
really involved. A trainer came for five hours, stressing the religious
component of pastoral care (Unitarian Universalist (UU) vs. Christian).
Team on "Death and Bereavement" will help from the moment
they're notified of a death; the first step is evaluation. One person
writes sympathy cards for the group; she is the "card specialist." Team
members don't do counseling or psychotherapy; usually women are
assigned to women, men are assigned to men.
By Ann Faegre
The premise is that we are a caring community, and pastoral care is an
expression of that caring. Pastoral team members do NOT do counsel,
therapy or give advice. They make references and recommend connections.
She suggested a buddy system, hospital and nursing home visits, and
respite care for stressed out parents and other caregivers.
By Rev. Scott Alexander
The minister needs to get out of the way and let others run
it; even though ministers like to help people, and need to be needed,
they need to get out of the way.
This program has changed the face of the congregation; in a time of
great growth at RRUC, it has reassured people that intimacy will still
be there; the minister is spread around more effectively, and uses the
mystique of his position to be effective when necessary.
People are gradually learning that to be a member of RRUC, they
can ask for help and they will be helped. Over time, a higher
percentage of people are asking for help, and are receiving it. It's
become more acceptable to ask for help.
Rev. Alexander's main point was that you cannot leave pastoral care just to your minister.
By Constance Hendrickson
A committee gets together and makes a list of who's not
coming to church, or otherwise missing. We make notes from "Joys and
Concerns," After a while, a network has grown up, where people know to
refer those in need of help.
The minister talks and writes about the Pastoral Care Team
constantly, so he gets a lot of names, which he refers to the Caregiver
The culture of the church changed almost immediately, as people got to know about it.
The team has benefited from its own care, as team members have also gone through problems and need help.
Rev. Thandeka asked: What would you like new ministers to know before they go out into the world?
Authority is like love; the more you give away, the more there is.
Rev. Linda Hart asked: In a mid-size congregation, it's hard to get
parishioners to take responsibility for pastoral care. When people say,
"It's the minister's job," how to you answer that? In ministerial
training, they need to get training in empowerment (different from the
model of ministerial executive power)
Dr. Ellen Johnson-Fay commented: At the mid-size church
conference last year, Jean Trumbauer gave excellent workshops. Some of
her books—Created and Called and Sharing the Ministry—were excellent, and are highly recommended.
Sylvia Friedman, Coordinator
For more information contact conglife @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, October 2, 2014.
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