Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pastoral Care

My intuition and experience suggests that among the many societal changes that affect ministry, there has been a shift in the ways in which we need to be ensuring pastoral care. I have written what follows to stimulate a conversation at our next vestry meeting, but am sharing it more widely as a blog entry in the hopes of inviting wider conversation, and seeing if, and to what degree, my intuitions make sense to others.

I sometimes have an expectation of myself that I will know of people with needs for pastoral care and should be able to make referrals to pastoral care givers and care teams. When I think about the past few years that has not been true at All Saints’ and has led me to think about whether my expectations are realistic or whether this is an area that has really changed.

There used to be an expectation that clergy would visit their parishioners unannounced and without appointment. By the time I began ordained ministry in the early 1980s this idea and practice of pastoral care was having its last death throes in many places. While older parishioners still thought that clergy ‘dropping in’ was something good and pleasurable, the younger families who were my primary constituency would be more likely to wonder who had died if I was to appear on their doorsteps.

Those were also the days when one of the clergy would make a round of the three major hospitals in Raleigh every day. We knew that it would be a rare day in a parish of over a thousand people when there would be no one from Christ Church in one or other of the hospitals. While we appreciated someone calling to let us know that they were ill, our expectation of ourselves and our parishioners’ expectation of us was that we would simply find them, have a brief visit and say a prayer. We did not have ‘business cards’ filled with our contact information and job titles. We had ‘calling cards’, simple elegant cards bearing only our names. I remember when an assistant even more newly ordained than me was hired who questioned the value of these cards for our day and age and was told that he could have any kind of card he wanted, but it was pretty clearly understood that what he wanted was a tasteless, if not bad, idea.

It was around that time when it was becoming standard to talk about ‘lay ministry’ and to talk about it in ways that assumed ministry to be something done by the clergy and ‘lay ministry’ to be something done by people trained to do some of what the clergy did. Lay Eucharistic ministers were introduced to assist with the administration of communion by serving (only) the chalice, initially as an expedience in growing parishes with only one or two clergy, the increased centrality of the Eucharist assumed and encouraged by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the continuing desire that Sunday worship last no more than one hour. This was expanded to include Eucharistic visitors who would take communion to those not able to attend church, but only immediately after the Sunday service. In time and certainly by the 1990s the illogical restrictions were being dropped. Licensed Eucharistic ministers could serve both bread and wine, and could take communion to the homebound at any time during the week from the consecrated and reserved sacrament. It was increasingly only the homebound who were served by these ministries and programs such as ‘Stephen’s Ministries’ and ‘BeFrienders’. Alleged managed, alleged care, together with advances in medicine such as outpatient and laparoscopic surgery had radically changed hospital ministry to the point where today in a parish of 3,000 we cannot assume that there is anyone in the hospital on any given day. It was not that long ago that I found myself telling a newly ordained associate that when we are on call and learn that someone is in the hospital, my expectation is that they be seen. And that means immediately. The chances are that the person will have gone home by the time it is ‘convenient’ for us to visit.

The advent of HIV/AIDS and the extraordinary needs of those suffering from this disease that was usually understood as a death sentence led, eventually, to the development of care teams for people with a whole range of practical and spiritual needs and those teams were busy for years providing critically important pastoral care. Changes in the whole scene in the past twenty five years or so, notably the development of increasingly effective ‘cocktails’ or combinations of medicine and other treatments have meant that a person testing positive for HIV can often expect to live a long life while managing a difficult illness. In that sense AIDS has become more ‘normal’ or within that range of human experience of living with chronic and long term illness that afflicts many people with a variety of medical issues rather than an extraordinary and epidemic plague. Those changes have meant that care teams have had to adapt to a slightly different understanding of how it is that we offer and provide care to people with long term needs and increasingly available societal resources. Many such teams have simply disappeared and the caregivers found their ways into other ministries.

Today we find our selves working with shifting models for providing pastoral care. The ideal is that every Christian is in a community of some kind, a formal small group or informal social network, within which she or he will receive care when it is needed. In the non existent ideal church, every person would know in general who it is that they are going to care for in a crisis and who it is that will care for them. Everyone will understand that they are being cared for by ‘the church’ even before clergy know what is going on. In that same ideal church, of course, the networks would let clergy know quickly. Whether the clergy response is that of an intimate friend or a stranger in a clerical collar, the member of the clergy is serving a representative function of the rest of the church or the whole community of which this smaller community of friends is a part.

When ‘lay ministers’ by whatever name were introduced into the areas of pastoral care, many parishioners resisted their ministry. That appears to be no less true with a new generation of aging parishioners who frequently have enough to manage without a ‘formal church friend’. Again, whether the relationship is intimate or essentially new, the ‘formal’ part of church ministry, to the degree that it is welcomed, is represented by the clergy. People say they have needs but rarely want those needs met programmatically. Take the desire that someone provide a ride to church. We find that the idea is a good one, but that we often do not want to have to beholden to another, or committed to doing something at a particular time each week, or unable to decide that we might like to go to Sunday School or that we might prefer to skip it and so on. Suddenly that person offering a ride in advance and on a planned basis is not such a great idea after all.

As our vestry has found ways to discuss what kind of church we are and what are the realties of the world we are serving, we have talked about Christendom and post-Christendom. What has emerged for me in those conversations is a sense that the way our parish actually works best is through social networks, relationships, friendships, connections and so on. Our parish life ministries are designed to bring us together in varying combinations in the service of developing those networks. This means that the most effective pastoral care occurs when we are connected and have real friends that care rather than what we might call ‘official’ friends. My expectation is that there will always be people who fall through he cracks for one reason or another, but often because they have not really connected with a network at church. That fact makes it harder to know of their need and it is just as likely that the clergy will be as unaware as everybody else in a large parish since we depend on the networks, especially those of which we are not naturally a part, to let us know what is going on. We have wonderful people currently involved in offering pastoral care who each have a heart for this kind of ministry. In many ways those involved are themselves a caring network for each other of exactly the kind we are thinking about. My instinct is that the ways in which we deliver care in the future will be more about creating and using networks than individuals with an assignment to care for other individuals.

I have some ideas about what pastoral care focused on networks, friendships and connection might look like, but for now would welcome thoughts, responses and other intuitions about what is going on. Let’s talk.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Out Stealing Horses, a novel by Per Petterson of Norway and winner of the 2007IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and translated by Anne Born (Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2005) Trond Sander’s sister cites David Copperfield. Dickens gives David Copperfield these words: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show” (p.212). In a way that is the question of Petterson’s novel: whether Sander or his father is really the hero of the story. But it is a good question for all of us along with that of whether we ought to be the heroes of our own lives if we are Christians.

I have from time to time wondered if we should not be rather more like ‘fifth business’, the character in a classical play who is minor, yet without whom the action cannot really occur. There would generally have been protagonist, antagonist, their seconds and then fifth business. At the risk of being trite, it seems that somehow Jesus would be the hero of our stories. This year I had the privilege of preaching at the convocation of the Yale Divinity School that was also the twenty-fifth reunion of the class with which I was graduated. I had begun thinking about this hero business even then, largely inspired by the work of James Alison. If you are interested in more you can find a manuscript of that sermon here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A recent lunch for newcomers and adult enquirers’ retreat both reminded me of what a great thing it is to be in a parish of all sorts seeking to find our way as followers of Jesus. Those gatherings included young and old, people preparing for marriage, newly married, partnered and single, married with children, empty nesters and just about every other kind of category you can imagine.

At the enquirers’ retreat in particular we had a wide range of beliefs and concerns. Some of us were in times of great joy and others carrying great sorrows, which over the weekend were shared as gifts that made our talk of community into a reality. I expect that some people who expressed interest will find their way into a Wednesday night GIFT group and others into various ministries of our parish and in the wider community.

While we were away the church was full as our children’s choir sang and some of our teenagers marked a rite of passage in Rite 13. Another wonderful time at All Saints’ with much to celebrate and much for which I give thanks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 15, 2007

I am still relishing the wonderful events of the past few weeks here including the Ann Evans Woodall lecture by Marcus Borg and the dinner preceding it for those lucky enough to respond quickly, the extraordinary performance of Minton Sparks (http://www.mintonsparks.com/), the fabulous art and craft fair,-- a first for us in this format, including selling our the Y’All Saints Cookbook. We enjoyed a profoundly wonderful service on All Saints’ Sunday we the Faure Requiem. In addition we have hosted two splendid and dignified memorial services, the Georgia Tech Chorale, a wedding and baptisms galore. A lunch for newcomers, well attended by members of our vestry as well, was in many ways reflective of the harmonious diversity of our parish The large number of saints involved in offering these many events including our incomparable sexton team testifies to engagement and commitment in a happy and talented community. We are greatly blessed.

It is in this context that many conversations are taking place all of which are tilling the ground for a formal visioning and planning process which we will get underway late this year or on into 2008. One of those conversations s about our patterns of worship and how we might ‘stir the pot’ and ‘stir our imaginations’ in ways that will make our planning informed and lively.

Possibilities that are under discussion include transforming our service of evensong into a quiet evening Eucharist with music and keeping that going through the summer, using a wider range of hymnody, and service music in the mornings including some of our supplemental hymnals and other resources. We have also wondered if this is the year to respond to the annual requests that we use the summer months as a chance to connect with people whom we otherwise would not see by having only one main morning service. In the past I have felt that this is the wrong direction for a parish such as ours. Certainly when we have gone to one service in the recent past we have radically reduced our attendance. It is also true that we have done this in conjunction with major work in the church requiring us to move in to Ellis Hall for worship and that it is possible that we would enjoy a common service in the church enough to maintain our enthusiasm and commitment. At any rate 2008 might be a good time to try it and so have informed conversation about whether a single service in the summer is a good thing or not as we look to the future.

Other conversations are about our space use; how we might really be a ‘resource’ parish in relation to some smaller places using technology to support real relationships; what pastoral care might look like in a changing church; how we can let our neighbors know who we are and for what we stand; and all within the umbrella conversations of our vestry about where we find ourselves as we find we have to do a great deal more teaching and incorporation of people who have little or no background in the faith.

I have been thinking about how we can think more about discipleship or stewardship than membership, and how we can look consciously at our worship and ministries in terms of how they help us become the people we were created to be and share our stories of real transformation. Lots to chew on. Exciting times.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another full weekend that included the 101st Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta. We heard a good address from our Bishop including his addressing issues of the wider church. He is not happy with those bishops who are trying to take their dioceses away from the Episcopal Church for any number of theological and traditional reasons, and he used the striking phrase that we are to “stay at the Table however unpleasant the company.”

I have expressed similar ideas before and am with him wholeheartedly. I know, of course, that the Lord’s Table is not limited to that found in the Episcopal Church and that we honor those who in conscience must depart. Nonetheless, it is not kosher to depart attempting to take property, parishes or dioceses with you.

I recently suggested that Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh who was my chaplain when I was an undergraduate, for whom I have great respect on many levels, and whose actions with regard to the church I believe to be seriously misguided, was attempting to change the rules (read doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as expressed in and by the General Convention) because of his feeling that ‘his’ church has been ‘hijacked’. The argument, such as it is generally takes the path of suggesting that TEC is not being mindful of the Windsor Process or resolutions of the Lambeth Conference. I am, of course, deeply mindful of those things as we seek to find our way forward together even after the GC confirmed the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire. Those who are trying to argue for some kind of impreium for resolutions of the Lambeth Conference (including those authors of Windsor who believe that is what should in fact be the case) are doing so after the fact. Those things are part of the conversation of those committed to finding a way forward together. They however do not want any further conversation about homosexuality, and are often not interested in participating in ‘the listening process’. Many, of course, have decided in conscience that they cannot and do not wish to. The Bishop of Western Tanganyika, Dr. Gerald Mpango, told me that I would never understand but that his diocese simply did not want to be in a relationship with a church that affirms homosexuals. And that is the bottom line, isn’t it—- all arguments about bible, doctrine and tradition notwithstanding?

I was grateful to our convention for passing a resolution that, in effect, acknowledges that the burden of these continuing arguments and conversations are being borne by gay and lesbian Christians above all others as we continue to work for unity in the church:

Resolved, that this 101st Council of the Diocese of Atlanta supports the House of Bishops in its “passionate desire to remain in communion (with the Anglican Communion)” (House of Bishops Statement, September 25, 2007), and also shares with the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church its concern for the additional pain and estrangement inflicted on lesbian and gay members of the church” (Executive Council Resolution NAC026, October 28, 2007)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Today is Guy Fawkes Day and also Joanna Hoare’s eleventh birthday. There is something vaguely ironic about the celebration of foiling a Roman Catholic plot on a weekend when the allegedly Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh had taken steps to attempt to separate from the Episcopal Church and ‘align’ themselves with some other Anglican province. It is surely the case that all such plots are about power and preference.

The Presiding Bishop is likely to begin the process that will lead to Bishop Duncan being charged with “abandoning the communion of this church” and so being deposed. The effects of any such action would probably not amount to much as some other bishop somewhere would say that they ‘recognize’ him and take him under their wing. It would however strengthen the claim that we are an hierarchical church and the position that is generally taken (which I support) that individuals can leave but parishes and dioceses cannot. I share the view of everyone who has expressed it that legal wrangling in the Christian Community is a terrible thing. I do not believe we would have such wrangling if sentiments such as those expressed by Bishop Duncan (that the liberal leadership have “hijacked my church” ) did not lead them to think that they are therefore above the rules, norms, canons, will of the Church expressed in Convention and so on. It is a classic case of someone believing that all processes are invalid when feelings are hurt. I think it is marvelous when an equitable arrangement can be made about property for those who wish to take their property when they leave, but that it is often complicated by buildings of historic interest and so on making the transfer of ownership trickier in some instances than others. Certainly we are enjoined to give to those who beg and to engage in nonviolent resistance to those who demean us in their use of power (see the Lukan version of the beatitudes in Luke 6), but what are we to do when someone is trying to take property from the Episcopal Church for use by a Nigerian or Chilean Church by fiat? Is there any way for our bishops to respond other than through legal adjudication and at the same time keep the promises of their ordination (which however fervently their opponents believe it and however loudly they proclaim that belief, our bishops have not broken faith with those of ages past, especially those who worked out a system of governance very similar to that of the United States.)

Perhaps more interesting are the alliances of some of the disaffected with African bishops. Philip Jenkins has written a thoughtful article in The New Republic (October 8, 2007 p 10-14) pointing out that African attitudes toward homosexuality are shaped by rather different cultural realities than those which affect us in the U.S. he talks about how “many African societies have well-established traditions of same-sex interactions and gay subcultures.” He sees this tempered by the rapid growth of Christianity in a “ferociously competitive environment”. That jives with my experiences in Africa where I was in many conversations in which the relative strength of Anglicanism over against Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism was the topic. He offers some fascinating insight and history regarding the other main arena for competition and that is Christianity in competition with Islam. He tells of the incursion of Christianity into what is now Uganda in the 1870’s and how the king of Buganda had “adopted Arab customs of pederasty” and consequently killed or martyred those who would not comply with his wishes. “On a single day some 30 Bugandans were burned alive” He goes on to say: “That foundation story remains well known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism—both symbolized by sexual deviance… For many Africans then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive.” Jenkins warns that “gays in Africa face very real barriers to acceptance. And we do them no favors by viewing Africa’s culture war over homosexuality as a mere extension of the battle we are witnessing here in the United States, rather than as a fight which raises questions unique to African history and politics.”

It is all very sad and very difficult and we will all come through these conflicts in and by the grace of God, striving to act with integrity in all we say and do.

Happy bonfire night.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007

Continuing my meanderings through C of E history and expanding my rather odd but increasingly extensive library of ecclesiastical biography, autobiography and memoir, I am in the middle of Launcelot Fleming: A Portrait (Canterbury, 2003) by Giles Hunt. Fleming was at various times Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Bishop of Portsmouth and then Norwich before becoming Dean of St. George’s, Windsor (An interesting place) I remember hearing him speak and preach when I was a schoolboy. Like the author, Giles Hunt (who had been one of his chaplains) I do not remember his sermons as much as the man. I do however remember his talks about arctic exploration. He was also a geologist who went on some of the last exploratory expeditions of his age and even had a glacier named for him and his talking about those expeditions I do remember.

He makes a comment in his standard sermon to ordinands on their pre-ordination retreat that sheds some light on why some sense of mission is curiously absent in many of these accounts of the institution of the Church of England. He tells these (mostly young) men that they are not to be about “keeping the machinery of the C of E going”. Instead, he says: “You are to be builders of the Kingdom, by proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and so leading people to worship God as Christ reveals him, and so win people from waywardness and timidity and worldliness to fullness of life s Children of God and inheritors of heaven.” (p.131f.) He sees the priestly, pastoral and teaching roles of the clergy first in terms of leading people in worship and then pastoral work which he opines “Probably this is what first led you to think of ordination.” Last he talks of preaching and teaching urging these men “Never allow yourself to whittle God down in your teaching for the sake of simplicity.”

That is how mission is understood in a fundamentally Christian nation. Whether or not we are moving into something called post-Christendom, we are certainly moving out of Christendom, and we no longer have the luxury of understanding leadership in the Church solely in terms of leading worship, doing pastoral work, preaching and teaching. What else is there we may ask? I think it has to do with learning something about how distinctive communities are built and nurtured in the Holy Spirit. This is quite different than assuming that the ‘wider community’ is basically Christian and we are simply about some distinctive aspects of that community.