Quaker “Best Practices”—Pastoral Care

February 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

Best practices:

  • Dedicate a committee to pastoral care.
  • Develop a care list of members and attenders for each member of the committee.
  • Ask the members how you’re doing and what they need.
  • If possible, dedicate resources to helping members in material need.

A pastoral care committee

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Membership Care committee charged with pastoral care of members. I know meetings that combine pastoral care and care of ministry and worship in one committee, and I think this might make sense for small meetings. But in medium and large sized meetings, I suspect that the pastoral care concerns will tend to take priority on the committee’s agenda and thus will tend to squeeze out attention to worship and ministry. Both roles are important and deserve our full attention.

It’s true that pastoral matters almost always have a spiritual dimension and spiritual matters can have a pastoral dimension, so these committees need to talk to each other when appropriate and keep the other dimension in mind when doing their own work. But that seems easier to me than trying to charge one committee with these two very important roles when you have only so much time in committee meetings.

Care list

I think it is very useful for each member and attender to have a Friend who checks in on them every once in a while, providing an opening and invitation to come forward with any concerns they might have, something they might not do on their own if the meeting did not provide the opportunity. Members should not have to struggle against obstacles if they need to seek help from the meeting; it’s hard enough to seek help. They shouldn’t have to figure out whom to approach. They should feel like they know at least one person, if only slightly, who has already declared their willingness to listen. And everybody should enjoy some contact from the meeting, so that we all feel known and included, and so the meeting is in a better position to serve its members and the Spirit in this important way.

Reality check

Over the past year, Central Philadelphia Meeting has held a series of potlucks to explore pastoral care in the meeting, asking what Friends’ experience has been and asking for ideas and feedback to the Membership Care Committee. This effort has grounded the work of the committee in a new and good way. I think our meetings need to be more deliberate than we usually are in sounding the life of the meeting in a number of areas—quality of worship and vocal ministry; openness and friendliness of the community to newcomers, children, families, and young adults, people of color, conservatives, and Christ-centered Friends;; support of leadings and ministries; spiritual formation in general; and the meeting’s witness life. The culture of silence that so often prevails in a Quaker meeting can mask discontent that should be more forthrightly addressed. I think we should periodically and proactively seek out the spiritual condition of the meeting in these various areas. Even an anonymous survey would be a help, though potlucks do a great job of building the very community you’re trying to sound out.

Material support

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Meeting Community Assistance Fund Committee that responds to material needs of the members. Obviously, the meeting has some resources for this ministry, as well. The meeting is truly blessed in this way. Many meetings have no reserves that could be available to help members who face some financial emergency. This is an extremely delicate matter and requires the highest degree of discernment. But I think it should be central to a meeting’s mission.

My model is Jesus and the early church. When Jesus declared himself the christ in Luke 4:18, he defined his “christ-hood” in terms of “good news to the poor”. When the post-resurrection church was born in the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), the very first thing they did was fulfill Jesus’ promise of debt relief for the poor by setting up a welfare system. The heart of that system was that members who had surplus wealth made those resources available to the community for poor relief. The positive example was Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37); the negative example was Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-11). And this was a community that was almost by definition already really poor to start with.

The question is, do we know who might be sitting on the bench next to us that is suffering under a crushing burden of debt or struggling to meet their basic needs? And if we did know, what would we do about it?

So how might small meetings and meetings with no reserves try to follow in the early Christian example? This is one of the roles that regional and yearly meetings should serve. How can we expand our pool of resources to meet this potential need? And money is not the only option. Pastoral care committees should research the resources available outside even the wider Quaker community. What programs are available from local and state governments and from other charity organizations? Our committees should keep a portfolio of such resources, so that, even if the meeting can’t be of direct financial assistance, at least we can help steer Friends toward the resources they need.


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