Pastoral Care in the time of the coronavirus pandemic
The challenges for local churches at the present time are how to keep alive the sense of a caring and still-worshipping community and sustain the bonds of fellowship that are, for all of us, a source of comfort and support in trying circumstances
Whilst denominations have done such things as giving advice, providing worship material on websites and using various forms of technology to stream worship and discussion gatherings into people’s homes – for so many of us, it is ‘our’ church, the local congregation to which we belong and the people we know there, that is uppermost in our minds.
What can we do, both collectively and individually?
- Keep active that part of the congregation’s faith life which does not, in present circumstances, depend on buildings and the usual face to face meetings. It is important to foster, as far as is possible, a sense of normality and continuity in the routines of the congregation, which of itself brings a degree of re-assurance.
Use, as appropriate, email, post and website :-
- to circulate weekly the Order of Service for the coming Sunday including the bible readings, hymns, sermon and prayers inviting each recipient to observe the usual time of worship.
- to give details of websites where worship and inspirational material is available, e.g. local Churches Together Website, the national websites of the individual denominations
- to share the news of the church family and any requests for prayers for particular people or situations
- to continue to produce and distribute the church magazine/newsletter
- to remember significant birthdays and special occasions for members of the congregation, if this is your church’s normal practice
- to share relevant news being circulated within your denomination about current concerns and the way forward as lockdown diminishes.
- Whilst there is a heightened awareness in all Churches in present circumstances for pastoral care to be a priority, the following points may, in some circumstances, act as a prompt for both local churches as organisations and individuals within those churches.
- Ensure that each person within the fellowship, including those who normally are no longer able to attend worship and church activities, has an individual who will act as their pastoral contact at the present time
- Where a person is reliant on a carer ensure that the carer is aware of the pastoral contact
- Consider how far the organised pastoral care system should be extended to include those who would not regard themselves as part of the worshipping community but are well known through their consistent support for church activities e.g. weekly coffee gatherings
- Be sure that those engaged in pastoral care are aware of the most vulnerable on their contact list but also be alert to the fact that others, not regarded as vulnerable, may be finding it difficult to cope with social distancing and lack of meaningful activity
- Where a particularly difficult situation (e.g. serious illness or bereavement) is encountered whilst engaged in the pastoral care of an individual, perhaps requiring more expert or experienced help than the pastoral contact can give, the church must ensure that a suitable contact is readily available to signpost the next step
- Whilst some people will be happy to have contact by email, there is something more personal about the telephone and much can be gleaned from a person’s tone of voice, manner of speech and subjects they might wish to talk about (e.g worries for a family member engaged in the care of people with Covid-19)
- Remember that, for many older people, a familiar face, even seen from several metres away and through a window, can be a tonic. If your daily walk takes you close to someone you are ‘looking-out’ for let them know, if you can, when you will be passing by.
- Be conscious of those needing practical help e.g. shopping, collecting prescriptions, walking the dog, even cooking meals you can deliver safely to them and see what you can do or arrange for others to do.
- Be a good neighbour to all: it is what the Lord Jesus Christ has called us to be.
For worship and inspirational material use the national website of each denomination. Also worthwhile is the Daily Hope website, a joint initiative between the Church of England and Faith in Later Life.
What are the Churches doing to help people cope with Covid-19?
If you want to know what your own Church denomination is doing and what advice it is giving, the best course of action is to visit its website. Links to all the major Christian denominations are accessible on our Resources pages under Helpful Links.
Most local churches will, by now, have begun to make arrangements to deal with government advice and guidance, along with the health and scientific information regularly made available.
Christians on Ageing is a small organisation but we are quite good at sign-posting good ideas and practice – and there’s lots of it around in all the Churches. We are looking at the possibility of highlighting important steps that local Christian communities are either already taking or could take over the next few weeks (and possibly months). We are hoping that visitors to our website will let us know of practical projects which are producing results and which can easily be copied. The focus is, of course, on older people – but this does not mean shutting us out of all community activity. There will be some, however, in our parishes or congregations who might become anxious because of what they see/hear on news programmes and who would benefit greatly from reassurance. What sort of contact would allow this to happen?
Christians on Ageing will not be the only organisation with a focus on older people which is uneasy about the language being used and the proposals being offered in public attempts to safeguard the health of the nation. The use of the word ‘elderly’ has made a re-appearance and is being applied indiscriminately to those in their 60s and, especially, those who are 70 years of age or older. Being older, being frail or being vulnerable are not interchangeable terms. We would welcome views on how best the Churches can get across far more positive messages.
Visiting Care Homes right now is causing anxiety and heartache for families, friends and pastoral workers. Marion Shoard, a member of the Christians on Ageing committee, has prepared some guidance notes on the difficulties faced by relatives and friends of those who live in residential care homes, and those who have pastoral responsibility like ministers or lay visitors.
Marion is a published author on issues affecting the lives of older people.
You can read Marion’s guidance here: Shoard, newsletter, 2, apr 20