“We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.”
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 89.
For a lot of churches, the term ‘Pastoral Care’ has come to refer to something the Minister (or a trained team of volunteers, like Elders) does. It might include visiting the sick, lonely and grieving – or sometimes, everybody in a congregation.
It is true that sometimes pastoral care can involve some particularly difficult circumstances that requires a person with particular training, experience or gifts to address (we will look at this more next week). Indeed, it is important for congregations to have teams of people that can provide care to people in these difficult circumstances. Yet, pastoral care is in fact something that the whole Christian community should be involved in to varying degrees.
At its most basic, pastoral care simply refers to the love that members of Christ’s community show to one another. It is grounded in the understanding that we love one another because God first loved us, and that in the love we show one another we follow the example of Jesus.
Jesus did not journey alone. In fact, in all four gospels, one of his first acts was to gather a community of believers who could live the way of life supporting one another. This fellowship of believers ate together, worshipped together, prayed together, and supported one another in times of need (see the reading from Acts below).
Most importantly, however, this community of care did not exist only for its own sake – but, through the love that the community showed one another, it provided a witness to God’s kingdom in its local community – I wonder if we can do the same?
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (NRSV)
Margaret Aymer, Commentary on Acts 2:42-47, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3237
Matt Skinner, Commentary on Acts 2:42-47, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=52
Read the following passages taken from the Uniting Church documents The Basis of Union and the Code of Ethics for Ministers and reflect on the questions below:
The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. (Basis of Union, 3)
The pastoral relationship occurs within a faith community whose life and relationships are established by Jesus Christ. The pastoral relationship has its meaning, and is established and maintained, as the church enables others to meet Jesus who nourishes our lives. The pastoral relationship is part of the way the church is nourished and built up as the Body of Christ, and nurtures life in the world. (Code of Ethics, 1.3)
- What do you think it means to be a ‘fellowship of reconciliation’?
- What do you think pastoral care that ‘builds up the Body’ and ‘nurtures life in the world’ might look like?
- Where in our Church community do you encounter meaningful care, love and fellowship?
- Where could our congregation do better at being a community of love?
Learning from others
Despite our culture’s fascination with individualism, the last few decades have seen a huge growth in popularity of intentional Christian communities like Taize in France and Iona in Scotland. This has been particularly true amongst young adults.
Watch the video below on Iona in Scotland, and reflect on if there are any lessons for how we live as a community of care.
This week you are invited to be intentional about entering into fellowship with someone in our community that perhaps you don’t know very well, or wouldn’t spend much time with. Grab a coffee together, have a chat after worship, maybe pick up the phone and give them a call.
Ask them how they are – and really listen to what they say. It’s easier said than done.