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A Different Kind of Social Justice – Pastoral Care, from Accotink to Ajijic
A Different Kind of Social Justice – Pastoral Care, from Accotink to Ajijic

Contributions by Scott Sammler Michael & SMDA

Our fellowship was born in 1987 when a small group of expatriate religious liberals came together to meet as Unitarian Universalists in San Miguel de Allende. The fellowship has been active and thriving ever since.

Every UU church has it’s own flavor, and we are no exception. We are a combination of expats and visitors, each actively engaged and contributing to this wonderful Mexican community we love. Because there is a coming, going, and returning aspect, our spiritual community is extremely fluid. There is a magic in San Miguel which draws us in and binds us together—both as members of the church and of the larger community.

LC LCUUF came together in 2005 in response to a local webboard posting by a long-time UU and resident of the Lake Chapala area, asking if there was interest in forming a local fellowship. A number of people responded, including Trudy Crippen, who assumed many of the early organization tasks and is our immediate past-President. Eight people from that original group are still active members.

In 2013, David and Susan Miller, two members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling, VA, moved to Ajijic, Mexico, to be closer to family members there. When it came time for their former minister Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael and her husband Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael to take a sabbatical, Ajijic drew them there as well. A warm and welcoming community of retired expats from Canada and the US welcomed them all with open arms: Lake Chapala UU Fellowship.

Nestled between two mountain ridges, Lake Chapala is a welcome escape from the DC metro area's winter weather and urban pace. As Rev. Anya recalls: “Ajijic is a beautiful town, situated on Lake Chapala south of Guadalajara. The people are lovely, and the weather is perfect.”

During their sabbatical, Revs. Anya and Scott preached on consecutive weekends and met with leaders of the UU fellowship to explore the needs of the community. What came up almost immediately was the need for a sustained, well-trained pastoral care team.

Rev. Scott, who serves the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke, Virginia, realized an opportunity to connect the resources of his U.S.-based congregation with the needs of the Ajijic UU community. Of Accotink's 145 members, the congregation has a pastoral care team of seven highly trained experts with experience in professional chaplaincy and pastoral care resourcing expertise.

Through Rev. Scott's help and encouragement, the Accotink Pastoral Care team grew into the Chesapeake Pastoral Care Network and began providing training and continuing education for care providers, regardless of denomination, from Northern Virginia thru DC, Annapolis and Baltimore. “This pastoral care ministry arose because of their healthy response to a string of unexpected deaths,” explains Scott. “Our most powerful ministry comes from pain and struggle, and Accotink’s Pastoral Care Team shows that.”

Rev. Scott had a lightbulb moment – why not send the ‘experts’ from his congregation to Ajijic to train the community

to teach help those good folks organize and maintain a strong pastoral care program for their aging members. Lay leaders have a way of being able to reach and inspire when learning from one another. So two leaders from Accotink – JoAnn Flanagan, and Paulette Lichtman-Panzer, chose to fly to lovely Ajijic in January 2016 and offer intensive Pastoral Care Training (they also led worship) to folks from all three of Mexico’s UU Congregations. “Accotink has gone ‘International’!,” cries Rev Scott. “Pastoral Care is a sacrament, it is a core practice of church, one of the things churches exist to provide. Providing pastoral care to the sick, the scared, the dying and their families is a form of Social Justice on the face-to-face, personal level. I am lucky to have such expertise applied lovingly at the church I serve; so are our members and those we train. Now we are spreading that intelligent, organized love. I am lucky to serve at Accotink!”

Paulette and JoAnn report having the loveliest of times while in Mexico, and they are buoyed by the enthusiasm and the level of engagement they encountered for this vital ministry. They foresee continuing the conversation using technology and perhaps planning a visit every couple of years to refresh the training – and their selves. Nothing cures our souls like caring for one another together. This is the power of church, and this is the beauty of a faith that transcends national boundaries to create stronger communities of care.

Accotink (VA)UU Pastoral Care Team Members Lead Workshops in Mexico January 20—29, 2016

At the request of the Board President of the Lake Chapala UU Fellowship in Ajijic, Mexico, Paulette Lichtman-Panzer and JoAnn Flanagan conducted two workshops to help participants establish more effective pastoral care teams. On Friday, a two-hour session designed for leaders of the UU Fellowships in Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico City was delivered to 8 participants. On Saturday, an additional four-hour workshop was delivered to the congregations’ 18 members who were interested in being selected for a pastoral care team.

An extensive handout titled “Pastoral Caregiving Primer” provided information on the basics of creating an effective team. This included offering a model design; identifying the mechanics necessary for developing a successful team; emphasizing the need for confidentiality, as well as development of a team mission statement and resource list. Active role playing and small group activities were much appreciated by the participants, many of whom had no previous training on how a team would function.

Paulette and JoAnn also delivered a sermon for the congregation (including some workshop participants from neighboring congregations) at the LCUU Sunday service on January 24th. Paulette reflected on the many reasons we gather together in worship and take care of our community while finding more meaning and compassion in our lives. JoAnn provided some examples of the types of unexpected and/or typical issues that the Accotink team has handled through the years.

After the Sunday service, we were invited to a delightful outdoor brunch venue. On Monday, JoAnn participated in an adult RE session about aging at the LCUU Fellowship. Board members and congregants expressed their thanks for our visit and continued to ask us questions about our experiences at Accotink.

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About the Author

For more information contact international@uua.org.

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