Greatest Hit: Prayer by Text Message?

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on worship as pastoral care is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

By Anna Pinckney Straight

text message

photo credit: IntelFreePress via photopin cc

There was hesitation before hitting the “send” key. Was I really about to become “that kind of pastor?” The kind of pastor who would send a prayer by text?

It’s not like I woke up one day and it happened. The move to that place was a slippery slope. It happened bit by bit.

In 1997 I was called to my first church. A little church in rural West Virginia. I could count on one hand those who had cell phones, and I wasn’t among them. The church didn’t even have a functioning answering machine or email address. Pastoral Care meant on-the-ground, in-the-home, sitting-in-the-hospital-room visit.

Seventeen years later, there I was, getting ready to text a prayer to a parishioner in the hospital.

The old days were easier. It was easier to know what to do. I knew what was expected of me.

In 2014, it’s not so clear. I’ve had more than one person tell me that my invitation to meet with them in their home caused them concern—what had they done wrong?

Hospital stays aren’t the same, either. You can argue whether shorter hospital stays increase or decrease the efficacy of that stay, but you can’t argue that hospital stays are shorter than they used to be. And in my experience, they’re busier, too. I can’t remember the last time I visited someone in the hospital and just sat for an extended visit.

I also find that people are hungry for their pastoral care to have a longer spiritual half-life. How will something that is said in prayer, or a scripture that is read, be recalled when they are awake at 2:00 A.M. in the morning?

Visits are always accompanied with a piece of card stock, now. I have stacks of prayer cards and psalm cards that not only contain helpful/comforting/challenging words (I have enough that I can choose one that speaks to the situation in which I am visiting), they also include my name and the church’s information.  Good for that 2:00 A.M. blood pressure check that leaves them wondering (aka: not sleeping).

And while it was a huge advance in technology to buy my first church a modern answering machine and get them an email address, I hardly use voice messaging anymore. It’s mainly a way to make sure people have my cell phone number, so they can call, or text me, with updates or questions or concerns. Logistics, that’s what texts have mainly been about.

Or at least they were until I texted that prayer. A parishioner was in the hospital, being prepped for surgery. It was unlikely I would get there before he went in, and even if I did, he was already surrounded by family. Maybe too much family. There was enough commotion and busy-ness around him. What he needed was a connection to something bigger, deeper, and quieter that transcended the moment. I could have called, but would he have heard me? Would he have been able to talk?

I typed the prayer, heartfelt words for this beloved child of God, and after pausing for a moment’s hesitation, hit “send.”

He told me later that he read the prayer then, had his wife read it after surgery, and then read it again in the middle of the night, when he awoke, afraid.

The prayer wasn’t a work of art or genius, it was a doorway to the Holy Spirit that, once open, allowed for grace to arrive and then to arrive again.

Is texting the same as face-to-face visiting? No. But it does leave a trail. And sometimes it’s not only an acceptable choice, it’s the better, more faithful, choice.

The old days were easier. It was easier to know what to do. I knew what was expected of me.

The 21st century is more fluid. It requires more energy to connect and more attention to discern what is a hunger and what is a desire. But if what is expected is to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” then the door is open. I feel a little bit (a lot) like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, but hold fast to Romans 12:15 and the belief that it’s the water that matters, not the cup that serves it.


 

APSAnna Pinckney Straight is an Associate Pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wife of Ben. Mom of Sarah Allan. She serves on the NEXT Church Advisory Team.

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT:

Greatest Hit: Worship as Pastoral Care in an Intimate Church

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on worship as pastoral care is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

By Esta Jarrett

Every Sunday, during the final notes of the last hymn at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC, I walk from the chancel to the center aisle of the sanctuary and invite the congregation to join me. We form a long, loose circle (as best we can, with the odd walker and wheelchair). We join hands, or rest our hands on our neighbors’ shoulders, as I speak a charge and benediction.

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

This moment of laying on of hands, friend to friend, daughter to mother, veteran to child, has become a highlight of the week…for me as well as the congregation. Our joined hands create a circuit through which the Holy Spirit jumps and sparks. The hairs on our necks stand on end.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I say in those moments. (Trying to read a scripted benediction is a mite impractical when holding hands.) I think the words tie in with the words of the last hymn, which relate to the scripture and sermon (hopefully), which connect to the church season.

Mostly, though, I just talk, and keep it simple. The benediction voices God’s longing and love for these people in this moment and in the week ahead. It’s something along the lines of, “Remember that you are loved.” Such ordinary words can hold such great power.

We started doing this a few months ago because we desperately needed to feel connected to each other. Our congregation has suffered significant losses this year, with far, far too many loved ones dying and moving away. It has sucked, at times beyond the telling of it. These blows to our part of the body of Christ have left us reeling.

We’re an intimate congregation (using the excellent terminology of Erik DiVietro, in his October 2010 blog post “Shifting from Small to Intimate”), with average Sunday participation of 20. Everybody matters. Everybody’s gifts and presence are valued. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

There’s been a lot of hurt lately.

In response, we look for ways to love on each other and build each other up in everything we do. Our worship services have become a form of pastoral care.

In addition to the laying on of hands during the benediction, we really enjoy passing the peace. It’s sacred chaos for a few minutes. Everybody gets hugged. Some of our members who live alone confess that these may be the only hugs they get all week. Sometimes there’s so much laughter that people don’t realize I’ve introduced the Gloria until our organist starts playing. (I’m totally okay with that. What is a Gloria if not holy laughter?)

Later in the service, we spend a few minutes talking about a faith-related topic. We used to call this the “children’s sermon,” but the adults (who now threaten that they want to come sit on the steps like the kids) love it too, so now this is simply a time for open conversation. We talk about fear, and hope, and the meaning of Advent, and the origins of Santa Claus…whatever is relevant and engaging.

This pattern of connection in worship sprang out of our deep need for Christ. It all began in a moment of prayer in September, when the session gathered for our own service of healing and wholeness. We went around the circle, anointing and praying for each other, praying for Christ to heal us and use us in our brokenness.

Ever since, we have felt and seen the Spirit at work, binding us up, making us one. We are given inordinate amounts of courage and hope, so that we can go out and feed homeless kids in the schools, visit the home-bound, and share God’s love throughout our little town. Our enjoyment of worship spills over into our daily living.

And, I can’t deny that all this feeds my spirit too. As we laugh, and hug, and celebrate being a church – as we minister to each other – my heart is filled with gratitude. God is faithful. God is using us, as we are, who we are, here and now. It’s a blessing to be part of it.


 

esta jarrettEsta Jarrett is the Pastor at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton NC, through the “For Such a Time as This” small church residency program. She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary (although she still calls it Union PSCE in her head).

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT:

Saints of Diminished Capacity

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook

By Milton Brasher-Cuningham

saints of diminished capacity

I only saw the words written,
requiring me to infer tone;
to assume either compassion
or conceit; to decide if the poet
mimed quotation marks when
he said, “diminished capacity,” —
or saints, for that matter —
if he even said the words out loud.

Either way, the phrase is
fragrant with failure, infused
with what might have been,
what came and went,
what once was lost . . .
and now is found faltering,
struggling, stumbling,
still hoping, as saints do,
failure is not the final word.

Forgiveness flows best from
brokenness; the capacity for
love is not diminished by
backs bowed by pain, or
hearts heavy with grief.
Write this down: the substance
of things hoped for fuels
those who walk wounded:
we are not lost; we are loved.

MB-C-Headshot-Version-2Milton Brasher-Cuningham is a writer, chef, teacher, minister, small urban farmer, musician, husband, and keeper of Schnauzers who lives with his wife, Ginger, in Durham, North Carolina. He blogs at www.donteatalone.com, sharing both reflections and recipes.

Giving Permission

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Jenny McDevitt

In elementary school, I had a brief but intense career as a Christmas criminal.

My third grade class was scheduled for a field trip to see The Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. It was mere days before Christmas break, we didn’t have to wear our school uniforms, and there would be hot chocolate afterward. I was nearly delirious with eight-year-old holiday anticipation. My friends and I were in agreement: this would be the Best Day Ever.

There was only one problem: I forgot to get my permission slip signed ahead of time. On the day it was due, I looked down in horror at the blank line where my mother’s signature should have been. I grabbed my pen, glanced around furtively, and signed her name with a flourish. Just like that, I gave myself permission to travel with my classmates.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. We can’t always do it for ourselves. So this Christmas season, we, who work in pastoral care, are giving you a gift: we’re giving you permission.

We’re giving you permission to be sad.

ornament

photo credit: hjl via photopin cc

Holidays can be tough times. Christmas carols insist that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many people, that just isn’t true. After all, a season that emphasizes friends and family can sharpen the ache we feel over a loved one who isn’t at the table for Christmas dinner. A season full of angels singing and bells ringing can intensify the silent struggles of our hearts. So hear this: if you aren’t in a celebratory place, that is okay. Whether your grief is brand new or years old, give yourself space to honor your feelings. The Light of the World is coming. Jesus isn’t offended by your sadness. After all, he comes to redeem a broken world.

We’re also giving you permission to be happy.

This sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Who needs permission to be happy? You might be surprised. “I feel like it’s not fair for me to be happy,” she said. “When I find myself laughing or enjoying something, I catch myself. How can I be happy when [my husband] isn’t here? It feels like being happy would mean I don’t miss him anymore.” This isn’t an unusual comment. So often, those who are grieving feel as though any spark of joy dishonors their loss or their concern for others’ pain. Know that this is not true. It’s okay to find happiness. It doesn’t lessen your love, your loss, or your concern. It is a reminder of the gospel truth we claim: there is a Light that no amount of darkness can overcome.

We’re giving you permission to be however you are this Christmas season. Christmas is coming. Whether we are happy or sad, delighted or angry, grateful or frustrated, ready or not. Christmas is coming, and Jesus will meet us where we are. That’s what incarnation is all about. And that’s very good news.

McDevittJenny McDevitt is pastor of pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Pro-Active Pastoral Care

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Anna Pinckney Straight

In my current call, we are asked to write an annual self-evaluation in preparation for our annual review.

I’ve written eight of these, and there is one thing every single one has had in common.  “I’d like to work on non-crisis pastoral care.”

shutterstock/wk1003mike

shutterstock/wk1003mike

When I moved here, wise colleagues cautioned me.  “In a larger church, you can’t go find the pastoral care needs, you need to devote your energy to the needs that come to you.”

It was good advice.   And true.

And yet, it is a truth I can’t accept, for it’s an incomplete equation.  It leaves out those who can’t find their way to the phone or to my door. It leaves out those who have questions they don’t know how to ask — questions that can’t be found directly, but are revealed in the course of a conversation, in the course of a faithful relationship — the kind of relationship brothers and sisters in Christ can cultivate.

I’ve tried six ways to Sunday to get at this issue.

  • I bought index cards and tried to keep track of each encounter with a church member, hoping to be able to identify those with whom I hadn’t met or seen in a while.
  • A lay-visitation course was developed.
  • Deacons call their neighborhoods, with special emphasis on the aging-in-place members.

All of these things have helped, but none of them, in my opinion, have addressed the deeper issues, the real issues.

I know that there are those who are being missed.  Who are hungry for deeper engagement in the life of faith.

In one of my favorite blog posts of all time, Gordon Atkinson shared these words about pastoral care (it’s no longer online, but you can find other of his writings here: http://gordonatkinson.net):

Now you understand. You’re not Jesus after all. You’re a man who is good with words and who feels things very deeply. You’re a dreamer and a silly person, like all the other silly people at church. You cannot love everyone, and you cannot be all things to all people.

Welcome to the human race, preacher. Now you are ready to begin.

You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.

Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.

You cannot love anyone until you learn you cannot love everyone. You cannot be a real live preacher until you learn to be a real live person. 

I’ve begun to think that I’ve been asking the wrong questions.  Instead of trying six ways to Sunday to find ways to track and connect with all of the members of the congregation, should I be asking, instead, how have pro-active pastoral care needs shifted in the 21st century?

Have they shifted away from the pastor’s office and found a new home in the pews, in the communities that form among people who worship and pray together, week after week?

In the gatherings that happen among parents, waiting together while their children are in choir practice?

The evening supper tables at retirement communities?

Is living in your community becoming the new proactive pastoral care?

For clergy, is pastoral care leaving the office, leaving the parlor?  Is it now found catching up in the grocery store, while getting coffee, while out to supper?

Jesus went, Jesus waited, Jesus listened, Jesus prayed, Jesus wept.

What’s NEXT for the church in the world of pastoral care?

 

APSAnna Pinckney Straight is an Associate Pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wife of Ben. Mom of Sarah Allan. She serves on the NEXT Church Advisory Team.

Worship as Pastoral Care in an Intimate Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Esta Jarrett

Every Sunday, during the final notes of the last hymn at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC, I walk from the chancel to the center aisle of the sanctuary and invite the congregation to join me. We form a long, loose circle (as best we can, with the odd walker and wheelchair). We join hands, or rest our hands on our neighbors’ shoulders, as I speak a charge and benediction.

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

This moment of laying on of hands, friend to friend, daughter to mother, veteran to child, has become a highlight of the week…for me as well as the congregation. Our joined hands create a circuit through which the Holy Spirit jumps and sparks. The hairs on our necks stand on end.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I say in those moments. (Trying to read a scripted benediction is a mite impractical when holding hands.) I think the words tie in with the words of the last hymn, which relate to the scripture and sermon (hopefully), which connect to the church season.

Mostly, though, I just talk, and keep it simple. The benediction voices God’s longing and love for these people in this moment and in the week ahead. It’s something along the lines of, “Remember that you are loved.” Such ordinary words can hold such great power.

We started doing this a few months ago because we desperately needed to feel connected to each other. Our congregation has suffered significant losses this year, with far, far too many loved ones dying and moving away. It has sucked, at times beyond the telling of it. These blows to our part of the body of Christ have left us reeling.

We’re an intimate congregation (using the excellent terminology of Erik DiVietro, in his October 2010 blog post “Shifting from Small to Intimate” on intimatechurch.wordpress.org), with average Sunday participation of 20. Everybody matters. Everybody’s gifts and presence are valued. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

There’s been a lot of hurt lately.

In response, we look for ways to love on each other and build each other up in everything we do. Our worship services have become a form of pastoral care.

In addition to the laying on of hands during the benediction, we really enjoy passing the peace. It’s sacred chaos for a few minutes. Everybody gets hugged. Some of our members who live alone confess that these may be the only hugs they get all week. Sometimes there’s so much laughter that people don’t realize I’ve introduced the Gloria until our organist starts playing. (I’m totally okay with that. What is a Gloria if not holy laughter?)

Later in the service, we spend a few minutes talking about a faith-related topic. We used to call this the “children’s sermon,” but the adults (who now threaten that they want to come sit on the steps like the kids) love it too, so now this is simply a time for open conversation. We talk about fear, and hope, and the meaning of Advent, and the origins of Santa Claus…whatever is relevant and engaging.

This pattern of connection in worship sprang out of our deep need for Christ. It all began in a moment of prayer in September, when the session gathered for our own service of healing and wholeness. We went around the circle, anointing and praying for each other, praying for Christ to heal us and use us in our brokenness.

Ever since, we have felt and seen the Spirit at work, binding us up, making us one. We are given inordinate amounts of courage and hope, so that we can go out and feed homeless kids in the schools, visit the home-bound, and share God’s love throughout our little town. Our enjoyment of worship spills over into our daily living.

And, I can’t deny that all this feeds my spirit too. As we laugh, and hug, and celebrate being a church – as we minister to each other – my heart is filled with gratitude. God is faithful. God is using us, as we are, who we are, here and now. It’s a blessing to be part of it.

Esta Jarrett is the Pastor at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton NC, through the “For Such a Time as This” small church residency program. She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary (although she still calls it Union PSCE in her head).

In Life and in Death We Belong to God: Are there Babysitters in Heaven?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post originally appeared at Ecclesio.com and is republished here with the author’s permission 

By Meg Peery McLaughlin

I got a phone call from a young mom a couple of weeks ago asking me how to talk to her elementary-aged daughter about death. It wasn’t because her child was acutely grieving the loss of a loved one, but rather a curiosity about what happens when someone dies. Honestly and humbly, this mother had patiently answered her daughter’s questions. They talked about how everybody dies. Sometimes it is older people whose bodies stop working. They talked about people who die suddenly from accidents or illnesses. They talked about how, yes, even babies sometimes die. Upon this realization, the little girl wondered aloud if there were babysitters in heaven. For if a baby can die and their mommy or daddy aren’t in heaven yet, then who will take care of them? It was at this point that the mom called me.

As a Pastor of Pastoral Care at a larger congregation, I’ve averaged a funeral every other week for the past six years. I’ve watched children climb around hospitals beds pointing out catheters and IV drips, as parents have explained how bodies weren’t working anymore. I’ve seen young siblings bring balloons to the memorial garden and tell me that their baby brother is with Jesus. I’ve released ashes over the side of the mountain and heard a grandchild ask, almost immediately, “can I go have some hot chocolate now.” This congregation has taught me some important lessons about death.

Talk straight. It’s best to be open with kids when the topic comes up and their questions arise. Be honest and as clear/concrete as possible. Kids don’t need to be shielded from the truth. If they are, their imaginations will fill in details where there are gaps. Avoid clichés: “God takes people” makes it seem like God is like the descending metal claw in a toy machine. “Grandma went to sleep and is now in heaven” makes me never want to put my own head on a pillow. “We go to a better place” makes me wonder what’s so bad about the world I’m living in – the one that everyone said God made. “I promise everything will be okay” sounds reassuring, but I’d rather hear that you promise to love me no matter what happens.

Magical thinking is an intergenerational activity. Joan Didion, after the death of her husband, wrote a great book called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her portrait of grief describes the way that she felt like she could control things with wishful thinking. Didion confessed she really did wonder if her husband would come back if she didn’t give away his shoes (he might come back and need them, afterall). Kids, especially kids six years old and younger, live in that kind of world, too. Young kids can think death is reversible. Kids can think that their thoughts/actions/words were the cause of death, or could bring their loved ones back.

State the obvious. . . again and again and again. Why do you think we come to worship week after week after week to hear gospel words, watch the waters of baptism slosh in the font, experience the table in the middle of room? We all need reminders of what is right and what is real. Kids do too. Tell them: Death is not their fault. It’s not the deceased person’s fault. Love doesn’t go away. You’re glad the person doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not fair. God’s heart is sad too. When they ask again, answer.

Let kids see your love. Afterall, that’s the same thing as letting them see your grief. Love and grief are intertwined and never do we get rid of/get over/ have closure with either. It’s okay to bring kids with you when you visit the sick. It’s okay to bring kids with you to the funeral. It’s okay to let them bring balloons to the cemetery. It’s okay to let them see you cry. It’s okay to talk about those who are no longer in our reach. There is great danger in turning to your kids to have them be your therapist, but there is great wisdom in letting your kids see your process. Where else will they learn to grieve? To love? To honor father and mother? To be neighbor? To trust that in life and in death we belong to God? A worth while read about engendering faith to our kids can be found at: http://www.breadnotstones.com/2012/05/ten-things-i-want-to-tell-parents.html.

Get comfortable in deep water. Most of what I’m asked about by parents are deep water questions. Will there be babysitters in heaven? Will I recognize my loved one? Who will be married up there—grandmom and granddad or grandmom and stepgranddad? How does all this work? I find immeasurable comfort in the way the Apostle Paul treads water here. In 1 Corinthians 15, in his efforts to talk about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, he says; “Listen, let me tell you a mystery!” I love that. “Listen Up! I’m about to talk to you about what NONE OF US really actually knows!” Here’s some permission giving here: tell your kids you don’t know the answer, tell your kids about mystery. But also dream about what’s beneath your toes. Imagine together about what heaven would be like—knowing what you do know about love, about God’s desire to bind us into community, about Easter morning and Christmas Eve, about your own experience of faith. Realizing that you’re in the midst of mystery doesn’t need to mean that you fall silent, but rather that you can stand in awe with your kid and practice the holy art of imagination.

bunnyParents ask me about good books to read with their kids about death. There are some good ones. Union Presbyterian Seminary has a blog that reviews Children’s Literature. (http://storypath.wordpress.com — search “death” within the site). But if you want to get to the core about my own theology of death, a go-to for me is Margaret Wise Brown’s A Runaway Bunny. Whether with young kids who can appreciate it immediately, or older kids who may remember it from their early childhood, that book speaks of an inescapable love—an inescapable love that is akin to the inescapable love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. If you read that book alongside Psalm 139: 1-12, you might think Brown was plagiarizing; plagiarizing in the most holy way possible. What better what to say that no matter where we go—in life or in death—we belong to God, like a bunny belongs to his mother? Who needs a babysitter then?
Meg Peery McLaughlin is co-pastor of Burke Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia, along with her husband, Jarrett. At the time this article was written she was associate pastor for pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Meg and Jarrett have three young girls.

Pastoral Visit or Social Call?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Anna Pinckney Straight

And so it was said of one of the beloved predecessors at a church I served, “He always knew when a pie was coming out of the oven.”

It was, most certainly, a compliment. The congregation loved that he stopped by without any reason – just to sit at table with them catch up with the family on the goings on in their lives.

Listening to people’s stories is important. It helps you know who they are and from whence they have come. I’ve been fortunate to serve congregations with people I have genuinely wanted to get to know and be intentional about doing so.

sailboatIn doing so, I’m a big practitioner of tacking. When sailing, you can’t go directly into the wind. And so, if your destination is in the direction from which the wind is coming you must set out in diagonals in order to reach your point. Sail a bit to starboard, then a bit to port, each time making a little bit of headway towards your goal. Tacking, it’s called.

Frequently, that’s the way I’ve approached pastoral care in non-crisis situations. I ask lots of indirect questions in order to learn more about the person – who they are and what makes them who they are. Then, based on the relationship that is built out of those encounters, theological depth can be inferred and added to the equation.

Only, I’ve been wondering: In my “tacking” approach to non-crisis pastoral care, have I missed out on what I am really supposed to be doing? What distinguishes a pastoral visit from a social visit?

When we welcome new members at University Presbyterian Church I’ve frequently used this quote from the Ekklesia project’s pamphlet “Church Membership: An Introduction to the Journey,” by John McFadden and David McCarthy.

“Becoming part of a church is a wonderful and frightening idea. If you look around you on any given Sunday, you are not likely to see prominent and influential people. Gathering for worship is not like going to the Oscars, or even the local businesspersons’ luncheon…..Moreover, we Christians are not all likely to share the same interests in sports, politics, or fashion. This lack of prestige and common ‘lifestyle’ is precisely the point of gathering in God’s name. We have been called by God to a shared life, in God’s name and not our own. When we gather in God’s name, we are not perfect people. Aware of our imperfections, we are called to be open to God. We are called to live faithfully to the way of God in Jesus Christ.

We are called to depend upon one another.”[1]

So. What’s the difference between a social visit and a pastoral visit?

Since moving to Chapel Hill I’ve frequently joked that this a place where politics and religion are perfectly acceptable dinner table conversations – the topics you have to avoid are basketball and barbeque.

I’m not so sure this is true anymore. We’re comfortable proclaiming our belief, but less so articulating exactly what that belief is. And that’s exactly what we need to get better at doing. Along the way to this goal, however, it’s important to find ways to establish a common language of faith. No assumptions about a common understanding of salvation or gospel or heaven. It’s a pathway that has to be remade with each conversation.

In asking myself this question I’ve changed (maybe more like shifted) the questions asked during a visit, or when talking with potential church members. I still want to know their stories, but now I ask them about their beliefs and their doubts, too.

It can be awkward, and it can generate some silence, but for the most part I’ve found people to be open and receptive to the shifting questions. For the most part, they don’t want to be a part of a church that is like a club or any other organization – they want to be a part of a place where faith and forgiveness, belief and baptism are the bonds that hold us together.

A pastoral care visit may still involve homemade pie, but it’s not the same thing as a social call.

What questions would you want someone to ask you, to help them understand who you are and what you believe?

[1] http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Ekklesia_5.pdf

APSAnna Pinckney Straight is an Associate Pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wife of Ben. Mom of Sarah Allan. She serves on the NEXT Church Advisory Team.

Pastoral Care for College Students Over Break

By John Rogers

As I type this, students are sitting in our campus ministry center studying away for finals. Some are seasoned veterans who know just where to find the exam blue books, free snacks, and know who has swipes left on their meal plan cards. But many are just starting, and the stress levels are through the roof. Most of our students have rarely seen anything other than an A, and most of them are coming in to college with over a semester’s worth of credits from their high school AP courses.

So, the pressure of doing well (mostly assumed on their own) creates a level anxiety—even among those who are involved in one of our campus ministries. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace… Yes, anticipation is in the air, but not always one wrapped up in an eschatological hope. Rather, it is anticipation of the grade they will learn of sometime over break.

PCM Thanksgiving

Campus Ministry Thanksgiving Dinner

Granted, some are pretty laid back, doing well, and surviving the trauma of a changed major or two. But within all of this — all of them — we need to remember are young adults who are maturing into a theological approach to their life. They are all facing challenges and are beginning to newly understand what it means to discern what they are “called” to do in life. They do so within the context of choosing a major or a career path in this new day in which most adults go through at least one if not two career changes in their professional life.

What many of them need to hear from their pastors and church members at home is more than, “how is college life?” They need someone to ask them, “how are you hearing God’s voice in your midst?” Far too often, we fall into the easy misperception that the undergraduate years are little more than a hoop to jump through. When we do this, we miss out on the wonderful opportunities during these years to encourage and spiritual development and maturation. Using language of “gift” rather than “privilege” goes a long way in assuring that the conversation will go beneath the surface. Asking your college student about their understanding of call and vocation is a wonderful way to start.

Yes, most will be catching up on their sleep that they forwent during the exam period (and it is not because they were cramming and did not study throughout the semester — most of them did. When you set high expectations for yourself, the work is never done.) But, amidst the busyness of this season with all the responsibilities and opportunities of Advent and Christmas, reaching out to your students is one thing not to miss. This is a big time in their lives. A lot is going on. New things they are learning along with an abundance of new people and new ideas. Take them to lunch or coffee, and ask them about it. The college years won’t last forever, and if you don’t seize the opportunity now, it will be gone before you know it, and you will have missed the chance to engage with them at a critical time in their lives. Now is when and where they are laying claim on the land of who they are and want to be. From my desk in the campus ministry center and my interactions, I can tell you that if you think their time of confirmation was important, multiply that by a factor of 10. The world is opening up to them in new ways — what a difference it can make for them to hear that their church, their pastors, are interested in hearing about it.  I’ll be praying for them while they are on break — and for you, too.

I’d also invite you to keep in your prayers the 1000+ who will be gathering at Montreat for their annual college conference January 2-5. It is a powerful time for conversation, worship, and engagement with students from all over the country. These students are expressing a collective thanks for the freedom of a break where tests and exams are in the rearview mirror and new classes and spring break mission experiences are on the horizon for the spring. AND if you find that they are hungering for something that is missing in their college experience where they have not connected to a campus ministry — get them plugged in. Call or email someone on their campus and help them identify a ministry that will minister to them as they discern how God will use them.

RogersJohn Rogers it the Associate Pastor for Campus Ministry at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill.   As the campus minister John works with a congregation of students that ranges from about 70 – 90 students each year. Students at PCM come by for Thursday night dinner, fellowship, and program, and throughout the week for other activities and worship at UPC. Also John staffs the outreach committees at UPC. He’s husband to Trina and dad to Liza and Cate. Before all of that he coached golf and was a scratch golfer.