At First Church in Sterling, we trained 18 folks to be members of our “Called to Care” team (a training created by the UCC). When their training was completed, I had a private ceremony for the team, touching them each on the forehead with water to use their gifts for blessing the world. In our public worship service, I used the following words to commission them, and anointed their hands with oil.
Commissioning of Call to Care Team
Robin: I ask the members of the Called to Care Team to come forward and stand at the front of the church.
There are many ways that together we provide pastoral care here, because as just one person, I can’t do it all. And so we must always widen our circle of caring, if we are to make it possible to care for our over 300 members and friends with focused pastoral attention. We are called to love one another, and so the pastoral ministry of this church is not in my hands, but in ALL of our hands.
And so we have Debbie Gline Allen, our minister for children, youth and families. We have the diaconate who have monthly caregivers on duty headed up by Carol Hoffman, and our meals ministry headed up by Paula Fogerty. All of these groups are a part of the Diaconate, which is chaired by Head Deacon Roy Lane. We have small groups like Aging Gracefully, and our young adult group, and our women’s fellowship, and our youth fellowship. We have a welcoming team for our newest members and visitors. We have a knitting group that makes prayer shawls. And so much more.
And today we commission our new Called to Care Team, also a ministry of the Diaconate, and an extension of the pastoral ministry of your professional ministry team.
Along with myself, Sherri Direda and Dave Russo are the leaders and trainers of the Call to Care team. The team consists of: Vicki Gaw, who coordinates our activities, Judy Doherty, Judy Conway, Barb Dumont, Clyde Hager, Vern Gaw, Marianne Powers, Jan Patten, Robin Harper, Liz Salo, Carol Hoffman, Cathie Martin, Heather Cline, (Ronna Davis) and Toby O’Reilly.
The Called to Care team works very closely with me. They went through several hours of training and mentoring this year by me, Dave Russo, a pastoral psychotherapist and deacon, and Sherri Direda, a licensed social worker and clinician, to learn how to provide one-on-one, confidential pastoral and spiritual care. They will continue to meet monthly with their training team for advising and continuing education. They take this commitment seriously.
Dave: There are many reasons why you might want to talk to a lay minister from our Called to Care team. Some reasons include major life transitions like the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, financial strain, and chronic or terminal illness. Other reasons might be that you are seeking someone to have conversations about spirituality, or that you are continuing to struggle with a longstanding circumstance, or maybe you just want a soul friend, a friend who can listen, ask meaningful questions, and care for your spirit in a unique and gentle way.
Lay ministers provide a listening, caring space for reflection about your emotional and spiritual journey. Each of these people were chosen or recommended because of their long-term commitment to our ministries, and their particular ability to listen and to be present. This is their ministry.
Let us now commission the Called to Care team in their role as spiritual leaders and listeners.
Friends, are you committed to offering and encouraging pastoral care within this congregation?
Will you lead by example in your actions and in your words, in your pastoral prayers and in your personal spiritual life?
Will you reach out to those in need, with open minds and open hearts, seeking always to be a healing presence: God’s hands and feet in the world?
If so, please say “I will, with the help of God.”
Robin: Congregation, will you place your trust in these people?
Will you allow yourself, even push yourself, to ask for their care, and to receive their care?
Will you honor them with the role and responsibilities of lay ministry?
If so, please answer, “We will.”
Robin: In response to, and as a sign of, this affirmation of your call to service I follow the ancient tradition of anointing you with oil that has been blessed in the name of God: in the name of all that is beautiful, true, and good. As this oil absorbs into your skin, may you absorb into your soul all the love and good wishes which surround you in this moment. Let it be an outward reminder of God, who calls you to this work.
“May you remember that your hands are God’s hands to those who need your care.”
Called to Care team: We thank you for your faith in us, and vow to do our best to live up to the charge you have given us. We promise, also, to remember that the ultimate responsibility for our church lies with all of us, for this is our home, our community. May we all do what we can to make this a community where we are gathered in the spirit of Jesus, and where we endeavor to create heaven here on earth.
Robin Bartlett is the pastor of a progressive Universalist Christian multi-denominational church that includes, but is not limited to, the UUA in Sterling, MA. She was born, raised and ordained UU and has dual standing in the UCC. Robin firmly believes that every thing, every one and every event deserves a blessing.