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What does it mean to be a pastoral care worker?


Pastoral care is an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions. It has been described in our modern context as individual and corporate patience in which trained pastoral carers support people in their pain, loss and anxiety, and their triumphs, joys and victories.

Pastoral care as a care model and profession is emerging in the public arena in its own right, in our day, and its value and helpfulness is now recognised as applicable to people generally in their everyday life.

Just as its theory and philosophy is not dependent on any one set of beliefs or traditions, so pastoral carers are trained to relate gently and skilfully with the inner world of individuals from all walks of life, and the elements that go to make up that persons sense of self, their inner resources, resilience and capacity to cope.

They are not counsellors or therapists. They are personal relators operating under a positive motivation that has no strings attached.

  • Holistic approach the whole person
  • To explore the inner essence soul in all of us: the inner world
  • Historically Christian but is now a multi faith community
  • Caring for the sheep is the role of pastors.

What qualifications does a pastoral care worker have?

  • Minister of religion can be a chaplain or theologian, or both
  • Clinical pastoral education diploma.

What is clinical pastoral education?

  • Educational through learning about holistic self, identity
  • Clinical through healing, personal and spiritual growth toward wholeness, reaching full potential, for example through the confrontation of pain, or identifying barriers to growth
  • Interpersonal training patients, supervisors, groups your stuff, my stuff awareness
  • Seminars, daily journals, case-studies, worship, life journeys, verbatims, evaluation (final)
  • Minimum standard 150 hours ASPEA, TCMA
  • Internationally recognised
  • Encouraging students involved in pastoral relationships to have a spiritual connection person to person. Quote from poetry, poems, music, song, meditation, prayer, morning worship.

How does pastoral care differ from chaplaincy?

A religious leader can perform religious ceremonies for a particular faith, and helps people meet their obligations to that faith, and examine the implications of that faith and its beliefs. Some religious leaders can also be pastoral care workers.

A pastoral care worker is available for general or specific life issues concerning grief, loss, identity, cultural and racial, climate if alienation (food, wine), meaning of life, loss of hope, marriage break-downs, financial burdens, language barriers, loneliness, coping with disability, etc., as well as peoples triumphs, joys and victories.

To spend time with a pastoral care worker:

  • We seek to be available to you at all times, however it may be necessary to make an appointment (except in crisis).
  • Somewhere to go, someone to listen without necessarily wanting an outcome or treatment e.g. for depression
  • Spiritual/religious issues are often a part of a quest for a deeper meaning of life, and understanding of self.
  • Pastoral care workers are willing to refer people to Health and Counselling
  • Pastoral care workers assist people who are too afraid to approach more formal avenues of help that is, they can act as gatekeepers
  • They provide a place to go and talk for those who are uneasy with the society in which they find themselves e.g. international students with cross cultural issues such as alcohol, dress codes such as veils, or with relationships.
  • Pastoral care workers may sustain ongoing relationships with people to develop healthy relationships.
  • Pastoral care workers seek to nurture and celebrate the respective cultures, rituals and customs of individuals and groups eg. UC Harmony and Face Project.

Case study:

The Spiritual Meeting Place is open during office hours, so anyone with problems can come anytime. At first they might discuss religious issues (sometimes with a chaplain of a different faith) then emotional issues may surface for discussion. It is a place to feel safe and accepted, acknowledged, and trust develops to allow them to enter the realm of Health and Counselling if necessary.

For example a person approached with a faith issue, and gradually the conversation developed around emotional issues concerning a dysfunctional family and the implications this had for the individual. Eventually the issues manifested themselves, and an appointment was made with Medical and Counselling. A meeting of all chaplains was held with the director of Medical and Counselling to work out a unified and consistent approach to assisting the person.

This was a good example of the multi-disciplinary approach.

What does a pastoral care worker do?

  • Pastoral care workers are available to all on campus at an individual and interfaith level, as well as spiritual
  • Pastoral care workers work inclusively with all people, whether or not they have a stated religious affiliation.
  • Pastoral care workers are aware of boundaries, and the limits of the role
  • They advocate according to need
  • Pastoral care workers work within the boundaries of the privacy legislation and respect confidentiality
  • They liaise with other disciplines relevant to the needs of the person
  • They work closely with other pastoral care workers and chaplains
  • Pastoral care workers have a role in crisis intervention (not taking the role of Health and Counselling but being available for those who do not want the more formal medical approach)
  • They facilitate a person finding their own way of worship and prayer, e.g. through meditation of blessing, pastoral counselling (not finding a solution but encouraging them to find their own path, which may include going to Health and Counselling for clinical consultation)
  • They facilitate ceremonies upon request.
  • They education the community in which they work so people can recognise those with issues, and know where to send them for help
  • They offer a pastoral presence to those referred by others
  • They have a duty of care for example toward those who may be suicidal
  • They keep confidential statistics of the people who have seen them, and the issues they have dealt with this helps identify weaknesses or issues in an organisation, or they can be addressed
  • They listen with respect and are non-judgemental
  • They allow the person to direct the conversation and do not push their own agenda
  • They provide an opportunity for each person to reconcile, forgive and heal etc., from their own resources and experiences, without imposing their own values, beliefs or faith on the person
  • They nourish the persons own inner resources of faith, courage, trust and love a reflective process
  • They affirm and acknowledge that it is OK to feel certain ways
  • They assist a person to listen to their inner voice, and respond empathetically and with understanding and compassion
  • Pastoral care workers honour the stories of peoples lives, and their experiences.

What is spiritual care?

  • Spirit means breath of life
  • Sometimes pastoral care workers are called spiritual companions and travel beside a person on their journey
  • They listen with their heart to a persons struggle, joys, pain, and journey with a person who is seeking life and nurturing their inner self
  • They:
    1. Are non-judgmental
    2. Explore the yearning within to understand the mystery of life
    3. Assist people to heal the spiritual aspects that may be broken or wounded
    4. Allow people to sit in silence, allowing the inner world to manifest itself tears, laughter, anger, and a myriad of emotions that may arise
    5. Enable a person to take control of their own issues and solve their own problems through the inner world
    6. Listen like a child hearing for the first time, with an open loving heart and mind

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