At Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church our pastoral care team, the Caring Circle, was and is an amazing group of people. They get a call and they spring into action. Food. Transportation. Lawn care. Love. Support. When I first met them I wondered where they hid the Superman suits.
Our challenge was never doing too little- it was that we weren’t sure of our limits.
We wanted to help. We wanted to be equitable. We wanted to be generous, and accessible, and useful and kind.
And in order to be all of these things we had to set boundaries. These are our guidelines for pastoral care. They are not set in stone, but they are at least firmly imprinted on hardening clay. We realize that exceptions can happen.
Parish based pastoral care is there for an emergency. We can’t replace paid care givers. We aren’t there to be doctors or nurses or therapists, even though some of us are licensed in daily life. We can’t repair years of neglect, fix lifelong patterns of behavior, or provide long-term solutions.
But we can be there to let someone breath. To have a day or a week or a month to figure out “What do I do now?”
We can make sure that life goes on while you try to figure out how to keep life going on.
Requests for help must come from the person; they can speak privately to any member of the Caring Circle or to me. If someone says they no longer want help, we stop helping. No triangulation. No drama.
We simply help, or not, based on request. We say yes whenever possible. We are clear about what we can’t do, and we try to do the rest.
(For legal reasons we will not assume the risk of lifting more than 20 pounds, engaging in any action which requires skin to skin contact (and could be sexualized), or transporting an unaccompanied minor.)
These are our Caring Circle Guidelines.
Another excellent resource for Creating and Sustaining Lay Pastoral Care Teams comes out of our New England region.
Rev. Amy Shaw is the senior minister at Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, WI. Amy is also a mixed media artist, runs with scissors, and spends her spare time lurking about with her co-conspirator Brian and her feline minions Nike the Great and the Dippy Cat. Amy tried to be sophisticated once, but a raccoon ate her opera glasses.
What’s the number? I’m only slightly joking. I never heard a more relevant description of what a pastoral care group might do. And though it opens my mind with a broader sense of the possibilities at the same time I realize how defining your role and setting boundaries though it might feel like limiting your ministry or availability I am struck by the importance and gift that unexpectedly happens when we do that which is you make people aware of how to imagine the ways your group can help them and so how many people who otherwise might not call now feel able to do so. Let me also go out on a limb and admit that when in a difficult time with needs high and presented with an open ended offer of help lacking clear limits- sure at first you might ask for something almost inconsequential- you have to test the waters but then without those boundaries there is a way in which if I have great need I am foolish to not continue to ask for and accept assistance and so have had someone pull away in a painful way and as much as I am not proud of it and can see that I needed to be caring for a caregiver but I also recall what such a hard time is like and one of the gifts you can give the person you are helping is permission to not have to manage that relationship on your own. Even letting people know that “I know my limits and will let you know if we get to where I can’t help more- when that happens it is no judgement that you need help nor do I feel miss used its just that is where I need to step back.” It takes hours of shame and negative self talk off the person you meant to help.