From time to time, it is helpful for a Care & Counsel Committee to look at itself and its work in order to identify specific areas of need in the meeting community and its own capacity to respond to those needs. Depending upon the nature of the individual concerns which come to light, the care committee may decide that the formation of a smaller subcommittee for pastoral care to directly assist Friends would benefit the life of the meeting.
In the past, such committees were concerned with helping “necessitous” individuals experiencing temporary financial distress, job loss or other unexpected situations and conditions which affected their temporal needs. Today, a pastoral care sub-group within a care committee may address issues of prolonged bereavement, chronic grief and the behavioral problems associated with trauma and illness as well as monetary loss and career set-backs.
As never before, people are experiencing social disjuncture as a result of job uncertainty and displacement. The ability of working persons to adequately meet their financial obligations is a challenge to many in our communities. Additionally, traditional family networks of supports are not as available as they once were to help in hard times. For these reasons and others, many more Friends are turning to their meeting care & counsel committee for direct support.
Members of care and counsel often feel stymied as they negotiate personal boundaries in their efforts to help individual members of meeting. Most of us lack the training necessary to discern the difference between enabling someone to move forward and fostering dependency. And, the issue of confidentiality when a meeting enters into a direct helping relationship with a member is a concern that must be revisited again and again as the relationship grows and changes.
Perhaps the most important aspect of serving on a pastoral care subcommittee is the experience of being in solidarity with the person in need. Helping someone turn their situation over to spirit, being present with them in their hour of need and together holding the situation in the light is an opportunity for both parties to receive gifts of the spirit, comfort and love. And, encouragement is found for all when way opens: solutions to problems that once seemed over whelming and intractable are found.
Yet, it is hard work to help others through difficult passages in their lives. Sometimes feelings of frustration arise. Support for such feelings must be found in relationship with other members of the pastoral care group. Being able to freely express one’s emotional response to helping someone in need is perhaps the only way to avoid fatigue. While we don’t offer training for Friends doing this work, it greatly benefits everyone involved when we can compassionately listen to each other’s deepest concerns.
Finding meaning in our own struggles to be helpful is part of the effort to help others find hope in hard times. Difficult conversations, talking about money and loss are often fraught with judgment and shame. But, these issues can be known and addressed in ways which honor the integrity of all when we sincerely try to understand the spiritual conditions of others; not shying away from persons in distress. It is in knowing and understanding these differences among us that new meaning is found and the life of the meeting is strengthened. When as Quakers, we experience the harmony that comes from understanding and knowing each other in extremity, in our groans and travails, we open ourselves to what ancient Friends called “the joy of the new creation.”
However, the most important capacity, in my opinion, is spiritual. That involves having the Friend who is giving the pastoral care prepared to listen someone’s soul “into discovery and disclosure,” which I would find impossible without the Spirit’s presence and without adequate loving care for the caregiver/listener. To be able to reflect love, we need to experience it and, in my experience, I can do that best when I’m rested and at peace, feeling well-nourished and cared for spiritually in my inner life.
Finally, I think a Friend needing comfort/understanding/hope/opening presents an opportunity when they come to another Friend for spiritual counseling. The opportunity is that the caregiver may learn something about them and deepen their own awareness of our unity in God while celebrating individual difference and the different paths we all tread.
by George Schaefer & Margery Lauber