The world is facing yet another unnecessary and unaffordable war. The far-reaching consequences of war is what human beings feign not to understand despite the tearful experiences of the past. Everyone knows all borders are arbitrary and if we start killing each other for the expansion of borders there would be nothing left to leave behind for the next generations to cherish.
It is therefore our moral responsibility to declare aloud that we do not approve of war- whatever be the rationale. We call for the cessation of all hostilities, withdrawal of forces, recompense to the loss, justice to the victims and restoration of peace.
But having said that we acknowledge the heavy damage the war is causing. Hundreds of thousands are left homeless and gaze at a bleak and uncertain future as refugees. Several children are orphaned. Several parents have lost their children for ever. Several people have lost their spouses and friends never to return. The devastation of the environment is not only irreparable but also irreversible. The pain, the agony, the suffering, and anguish of people affected directly and indirectly is here to stay for quite some time. We as a church has an added responsibility of care at a time like this. This care is as important to each of our members who are now impacted by the Pandemic, the War and all the related complications the world is going through in the name of sanctions and counter sanctions.
An Invitation to be part of the Pastoral Care Team
The word Care etymologically finds its roots in the Old High German word ‘Chara’ (the noun form which means lament) or ‘Charon’ (the verb form which means grief). The Old English word ‘caru’ or ‘cearu’ meant sorrow, anxiety, grief or burden of mind. To care for thus literally means- to cry with or to give a shoulder to someone who bears heavy burdens. One of the primary responsibilities of the church is to be with people specially as they traverse ebb points in life. The summary of the law as Jesus envisaged it had loving God and loving the neighbour as its focus and when asked who the neighbour is- Jesus narrated the story of the good Samaritan. Caring is all about the sensibility to see the suffering of the other and stop by. It is about attending to the wounds, sharing the resources, reprioritising based on the needs of others and carrying the weak to a place of healing. It is also about sharing your mite and about a relationship that promises that you would come again.
Care: As Everybody’s Entitlement
Ezekiel 34:11-16 describes God’s pastoral heart which the church is called to carry on. The key elements of this engagement of care include searching for the sheep, seeking them out, rescuing them from tight spots they wandered into due to clouds and darkness, restoring good pasture and nurture, seeking the lost, bringing back the stray and as important or if not more, binding up the injured, strengthening the week and ensuring justice to all.
Care should be seen primarily as an entitlement not a benevolence. Every part of the body of Christ has the right to be properly cared for. It is not an option it is the core of being the church.
Care: As Everybody’s Responsibility
Commissioning Peter in John 21 Jesus gives him three major responsibilities, Feed My Lambs, Tend My Sheep, Feed My Sheep. This was a responsibility not just to one person, but the responsibility entrusted to everyone who were to become part of the Jesus movement. The community around Jesus would be a community of care.
Feeding the Little Lambs is all about kinder care. Children are of varied natures and varied needs, and we need to reach out to them. Tending the sheep has several elements of care associated with it. Needs of each sheep could be different. Identifying those and responding to those needs as creatively as possible is the essence of tending the sheep. Feeding the Sheep is about nurture, protection, and care.
The primary questions like- who needs care the most and who will if not us should be asked with all sincerity. It is also possible when one overwhelming needs come up we tend to neglect the people who need care as significantly and constantly among us as the ones who are struggling with the new realities.
Care: As the Nature of Meaningful Fellowship
In John 10:1-12 Jesus points out three key elements of care- First is all about a relationship of love and trust- the shepherd knows the sheep by name, calls them out to green pastures. The sheep recognises his voice and just follows. Second, is a relationship of responsibility- the shepherd does not leave the sheep uncared for in trying times nor would he quit when difficulties come by. Third, is a relationship of sacrifice. The good shepherd would be willing even to lay down his life for the sake of the well-being of the sheep.
In contexts like this we need to be aware of the sheep that is not part of the traditional understanding of the fold which the good Shepherd has promised to care for. Every person directly or indirectly affected by this war becomes part of that fold. It is not just ensuring that we give some money or some supplies. Care is a much deeper and much larger responsibility. It is redefining the understandings of borders and expanding the scope of inclusion. It is raising our voices and efforts for justice and just peace.
Care: As the Ministry to the Nest
If the Nest could be taken as a symbol, we see several aspects of pastoral care that need to be looked into in detail- phase by phase- in the life of people. A very specific pastoral care and nurture programme must be in place for the church to meaningfully engage with the life and struggles of the people. The nest imagery would surely have its limitations and there are areas of pastoral care needs beyond this but it is worth taking a look at.
- The Incubation- Ministry to children from their formative phase- this also involves engagement with pregnant people
- The Regurgitation Phase- This is the phase where the parents bring food to the beaks of the nestling and the underlining of spiritual and emotional nurture is important in this phase.
- The Stirring of the Nest Phase. Duet 32:11-12- In the phase where the eagle stirs the nest, flutters over the young, spreads its wings, bear the young one in the wing, and help it learn the art of flying, the church needs to travel with both the parents and the children.
- The Phase of Independent Flight- The Flying off- At some point the young bird decides to just fly off. In this phase both the generations need support which could be varied.
- The Courting and Choice of Partner phase. Once the bird flies away and settles in independently and engages in the search of the life partner and next steps in life journeying with them must be understood differently. Some would also chose to remain outside wedlock for varied reasons and they also need to be equally cared for.
- The Making of the New Nest Phase. Marriage, Early days of Marriage and adjusting to life with life partners is the area where we need pastoral support in varied ways. The evolution of the understanding of marriage across time must be sensitively understood.
- The Hatching and the Feeding Phase- Mothering, Parenting and Upbringing of children must be seen in this phase of life. Children with special needs and parents with different needs should be identified and ministered unto.
- The Exciting Phase with the Nestlings- Well as children grow family life becomes exciting and challenging. While holding it all together one of the causalities could be time together in prayer and spiritual nurture. The church should continue to appeal and connect to them.
- The Letting Go Phase- And then when children grow, they fly off, it is inevitable life partners move on. This could mean impact on physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health. The ministry of binding the wounds and crying with is important here.
- The Empty Nest Phase. The final phase is normally the empty nest. When only one bird is left. This is where most support is required.
We also acknowledge how wars destroy nests. This calls for an extra-ordinary response of pastoral care which we will together weave as a tapestry of love.
Care As Being Together in Mission: The Pastoral Care Team
The call to be part of the pastoral care team of the church is a call to commitment and care. This team would be the eyes and ears of the church to keep on looking out for people in need. They then report back to the group on the well-being of the people who need pastoral care and assistance. Support that can be offered together could include among others Counselling, Crisis guidance, peer support, mentoring, nurturing, negotiating, redesigning goals, empowering, hand holding, helping with household chores, shopping, cooking, accompanying to the doctor, having a walk together or just visiting and spending time.
Priority could be given to people in hospitals and age care facilities. Spiritual support during Palliative care, helping decent, dignified, and hopeful departure and support with grief management could be specialised areas we could help with.
The people who always came to church during their healthy days might surely want to be part of the Eucharist wherever they are, and we should ever be willing to be channels of the Lord’s table reaching them where they are. Walking alongside the sick people in their road to recovery is very important.
Loneliness could be another area we need to be sensitive about and people who live alone must be ensured enough pastoral support however healthy they seem to look like.
Stress of various forms must be identified as the storm or darkness people travel with and we need to have the sensibility to read the vibes and ensure support. Freiburg being a University town we should also understand the stress of being part of a diaspora community apart from the academic expectations which are always demanding.
Support might be needed for young parents for proper mothering, fathering or parenting. Sometimes support might be needed to cope with disabilities or even a mid-life crisis. The list can be long and what we need is a sensitivity to understand, to stop by and offer support as much as we can trust in the love and grace of God.
The aspirations of the rainbow communities and people with special needs should be addressed. Caring should also include care for creation and care for the neighbour as its central focus. The understanding of mission should be within the framework of care.
Come join the team. Let us be a caring community together. The Pastoral Care Team will be the eyes and ears of the church, the heart, hands, and feet of the church.
The war scenario opens up the need to understand pastoral care in a much broader sense. Come let us probe together what pastoral care means in times like this.
Rev’d Vinod Victor
Chaplain, Anglican Church of Freiburg
on March 1, 2022