What does the word “pastoral” mean in our churches?

What is a Pastoral Charge in our great United Church of Canada? What does it mean when a minister is placed in a pastoral charge and a description of duties follows the name, such as Minister of Pastoral care, etc.? What does the term Pastoral Relations mean to the church staff? What is a member of the church to expect? And what will a stranger who drops in on a Sunday morning look forward to? What is pastoral care? What does it mean, and what does it not mean?

I served U.C.C. for forty years in a full-time capacity and interim ministry. I won’t answer all the questions above in these few paragraphs, but perhaps posting them in the opening thoughts will allow you to respond to them as a reader of this newsletter. I want to tell you some stories:

A member of the U.C.W. gave me my first experience as a recipient of pastoral care. I bought eggs from her during the first and third weeks of the month. I was a young mom and a reader. After we settled my purchase, she’d take me to her dining room table and show me some new books that had just come from the Resource Centre or Five Oaks, the U.C.C. education and Retreat Centre. In our conversation, she explained why certain books were essential for Christian growth. This was a warm and tender time. Much later, as a middle-aged mother, my last contact with Maisie was reading scripture to her and playing a song from my old tape recorder, ‘It is Well with my Soul.’ She was dying.

My older sister remembers the minister visiting the farm in a buggy pulled by a stunning black horse with shiny harness. I remember a minister sitting at our table in our farm kitchen and praying before eating Mother’s butter tarts. I also remember a child being severely hurt in a farm accident and the minister kneeling with the child’s father to pray.

I was ordained into the ministry of the U.C.C. when I was forty. I was placed in a pastoral charge in Alberta who informed me they returned from their summer break after harvest. “But how do I meet the people?” Caring for people was my first concern. My old Pontiac sat in farm fields on many occasions.

In closing, I’ll share my last story for today. A senior woman sat in the front row of the choir. She told me her job was not to sing as much as to make a list for me of those who weren’t in church. She called it pastoral care.

Is pastoral care happening in our rural United Churches? In the church you attend? I’d love to hear some of your stories.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-2).

Donna Mann