Pastoral Care FAQs – What is pastoral care?

Pastoral care is a holistic model of emotional, spiritual, and social support.  In practice, it might look like a minister visiting you in the hospital; a lay volunteer meeting with you to support you as you grieve; a hike with a minister to talk about vocational discernment; receiving a card to celebrate a milestone or offer sympathy after a loss; setting up a Meal Train for you after surgery; an email exchange about a theological question that’s been causing you struggle; a peer support conversation about spirituality and mental health; basically any point of connection that offers you support in a holistic way as you move through life.  

Some pastoral care is “emergency” or “urgent” pastoral care–this might look like a pastor showing up to pray with you while your loved one is in surgery, receiving a phone call on the day that you experience a significant loss, or a pastoral care provider meeting you at the hospital as you are experiencing a miscarriage.  These are things where the support need is urgent and the situation serious.

Other pastoral care is “non-emergency” care–a question that’s been gnawing at you, a simmering conflict you need help teasing out, a new cancer diagnosis that you’re coming to terms with.  These are things that you may need support with but it could wait for a week or two to get something on the calendar.  Sometimes the situations are quite serious, of course, but they’re not as time-sensitive.

Who provides pastoral care?

Everyone in our church can offer pastoral care.  Pastoral care is offered to the congregation by the congregation.  Of course, our pastors have some specialized training in theology and in offering care, so there are particular things that our pastors can offer!  But we recognize that many ways we care for each other are pastoral care.  If you’d like to find opportunities to offer more pastoral care to your fellow church folks yourself, please reach out to one of our pastors to help you get connected to networks of care!

What isn’t pastoral care?

Pastoral care isn’t therapy or spiritual direction.  It’s not coaching and it’s not a formal support group.  It’s also not the same as friendship–although friends in church do offer each other pastoral care, a pastoral care relationship isn’t the same as a friendship, and it may involve one person in a primarily receptive mode, rather than a true back-and-forth.  This can be the case with any pastoral care in a congregation, but it especially goes for care from our pastors.  Our pastors are definitely friendly, but they won’t be sharing their burdens with you as fully as you will with them, and that’s not only okay but appropriate.   

What kinds of things can we talk about?

Our pastors love to talk about tricky and sticky topics: death, fear, family, gender and sexuality, Bible and theology conundrums, major illness, vocation and work, retirement, parenting, partnering, separating.  We love to work together with you about making meaning from your experiences, making decisions, and finding liberating ways of understanding your life and the universe. 

What are the limits and boundaries?

Our pastors are not trained as therapists, spiritual directors, or coaches.  As such, it’s important that they don’t do things that are outside their scope of practice.  It would be an ethical violation for them to be offering care outside their training.  That means you won’t see them setting up regular meetings that extend over a long period of time–typically they might meet one to three times with you about a particular topic, and you’ll hear them encouraging you to look for a more structured support relationship if you’re in need of longer-term support. 

Our pastors are also not our parents or friends–while they do love us and they are friendly, a truly mutual relationship at the level of friendship is different from a pastor-parishioner relationship.  

Our pastors have a set Sabbath day each week, and they will not respond to requests for pastoral care (or other church emails and calls) on that day.  If you’re in need of urgent pastoral care, your best option is to call the pastoral emergency line, which is a number that our pastors trade between them, and leave a message.  We don’t have “coverage” overnight, but whichever pastor is answering that line will get back to you as soon as she can.  Our pastors also take regular vacation and study leave to recharge from the intense work of serving our church, and they are not reachable for pastoral care or other communication during those times.  On the rare occasions that all three of our pastors are away at once, they arrange for someone else to be available for emergency pastoral care.

It’s also important to recognize that we have three pastors and about 400+ people who regularly interact with our church and sometimes need pastoral care.  Their schedules permit approximately eight to ten pastoral care interactions a month along with the rest of their activities and work.

There are also limits and boundaries to receiving lay (that means non-ordained) pastoral care–we expect that you will treat whoever is offering you care with respect.  We expect you will respect the boundaries of the type of care you are receiving, especially not pressuring someone into continuing a care relationship past the offered number of visits or listening sessions.

How do I get pastoral care?

The best way is to ask for what you need.  You can email any of our pastors to say “Hey, could we take a walk sometime soon?  I’m dealing with some new information about my marriage and I need help thinking it through.”  Or “Could we hop on Zoom sometime?  I just got a new diagnosis and I’m making sense of what it will mean for me.”  Best case, you would ask for a specific timeframe: “I’d love to talk this week or next,” or “sometime this month.”

In an emergency, you should call the pastoral emergency line and leave a message.  It’s easiest for us if you share your name, a little bit about what’s happening, and the best way to contact you back.  “Hi pastors, this is Jeff Smith, I’m calling because I just heard that my partner Mike was in a serious car accident, they’re rushing him to Alta Bates for surgery now and I’m really worried about it.  Could you call me back at this number?”  

If you’re not quite sure what you need, you can definitely start with a conversation with one of our pastors, or even just an email: “I’m really feeling overwhelmed these days, and really missing my mom as I try to support my toddlers.  Do you think there’s anybody sort of grandma-aged who could offer some support?  I am just really craving some maternal support as I figure out how to be a mama myself.”

If you’re having surgery and want to get a Meal Train started, or you need help setting up a ride to a medical appointment, contact Robin Kempster, who sets up the Meal Train systems for people.  

What’s the pastoral care team?

Our pastors, along with a few lay members of the congregation, meet regularly to review the congregation and try to stay up to date about people’s pastoral care needs.  This team also prays for the congregation, as does the Prayer Team and the staff at regular meetings. They will keep your prayer requests confidential unless you authorize them to publicize your prayer request more widely (i.e. in the Carillon’s Tree of Life, public prayers in Sunday worship, and the Prayer Team).

What other groups can help provide support?

There are many groups both inside and outside our church that can help support you through a difficult time of life. Here are some groups inside our church you could join for support:

  • Chancel Communion is a sweet chance to connect with others immediately following most Sunday services–just come up to the chancel and gather with the group around the table for a small communion ritual.
  • Affinity Groups meet semi-regularly on various different topics for community and support.  From the Men’s Group to the Young Adult Group to the LGBTQ+ and Fam group, these are great places to meet others and make friends.
  • The Prayer Team meets biweekly to pray for all the requests of the congregation.  You can request prayer by emailing [email protected] and they will hold your request in confidential prayer.
  • Motley Few meets each Friday morning on Zoom for community and support.  Once a month people show each other their art!
  • Book Group is a great space to be connected to other people and engage in thoughtful discussion of big ideas.
  • The Progressive Christian Bible Study is a tight-knit group of deep thinkers who review scripture with a keen eye and an open heart. 
  • First Friends are structured, supportive relationships that can help you through a tough patch in life.  Grief, discernment, vocational trouble, loneliness, all are great reasons to be paired up with a trained compassionate listener who will meet with you up to four times to offer support.
  • Nonviolent Communication is a group that meets regularly to practice this beloved method of being in relationship with self and others.
  • The Mental Health Spiritual Support group meets monthly in person at church and monthly on Zoom, led by First Church member and chaplain Cindy Au to provide space to support and process experiences of mental health struggle.
  • Or join other First Church members and friends on any of our church’s retreats throughout the year: All-Church Retreat in September, the Silent Retreat in November, the Young Adult Retreat in April/May, the Families with Kids retreat in the summer, or help organize another!

And outside our church, members have recommended the following places: