Chaplaincy and Pastoral Ministry

Chaplaincy and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, 8 May 2017

On Entertaining Angels.*

David Pettett

There was a time many years ago when I was in theological college that I was trying to work out what Christian ministry was all about. One pastor told me to forget about all that stuff they teach you in College. His conclusion was that it just didn’t work in the real world and in the pragmatics of dealing with people’s lives. He thought you just had to get on with helping people through the struggles of their lives. He was still keen to share the gospel with them but had come to the conclusion that these would be rare opportunities as he spent his ministry responding to the practical needs of the people around him.
Another senior minister who after 30 years of ministry told me he shaped his preaching more around the business practices and successful lifestyles of his well to do congregation members than a call to radical gospel centred, Christ focused, discipleship. He believed this better communicated with them simply in terms of establishing trusting relationships. With trust he thought it would be easier to bring the challenges of the gospel to bear on successful people who found it difficult to see themselves as sinners needing a Saviour.
I have seen professional men and women who had attended weekly Bible study groups during their university days struggle to work out what it is to be a Christian in their profession. They had gained a good grounding in the scriptures but it had not helped them do the hard work of integrating their Christian life with their professional life. The two remained in quite separate compartments.
Each person in these three stories lacks what Tim Keller calls Theological Vision.[1] He defines theological vision as, “faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implication for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.” He means that we must firstly get our theology right and at the same time get our practice right. But our theology and practice will only engage with our culture in a meaningful, gospel centred way, if our theological vision ties the two together. In other words, unlike the professionals mentioned above, we have to do the hard work of integrating our theology with our practice. Inevitably this will mean that in reality our practice will look different in different cultures and in different times because our theological vision integrates our unchanged theology with our contemporary context.
One area I think we need to learn this lesson all over again is the area of hospitality. We know that biblical hospitality is about being generous to the sojourner and the needy. Yet how often do we think we’re being hospitable when we’ve just had a pleasant dinner party with the neighbours? How often do we think we’ve been hospitable when we’ve invited a group of friends to a BBQ because our children are at the same school? These aren’t bad things to do, but in terms of being generous to those in need, they are not necessarily biblical hospitality.
Biblical hospitality can be fairly radical and challenging. Like the family I know who on Christmas Day invited a stranger at church, who had nowhere else to go, to share their Christmas dinner. Other members of the family, looking forward to the usual excesses of the day, were somewhat horrified when they discovered that the tattooed stranger in their midst was no angel.
Theological vision ties us to radical, and sometimes scary, Christian discipleship. It is in the end a simple integrating of our theology with our practice. It can be hard and scary work. It can also be very rewarding. Just ask those who have entertained angels.
Frank had recently been released from prison and had been referred to a church by the prison Chaplain. Three men in the church who had trained as mentors for people coming out of prison welcomed Frank and helped him to have some sense of belonging. One couple got to know Frank and his background and invited him home for a family lunch. They gave other members of the family a heads up about his circumstances and there was a certain amount of nervousness in the air as lunch got off to a start. Nobody knew what to say or what questions to ask until the host asked Frank to tell the family how he had become a Christian.
Frank’s story is a fairly common story for a man caught up in our justice system. But as he began to speak about how at his lowest Jesus found him and brought him home these family members began to realise here was an angel in their midst. Here they were offering true hospitality as they had stepped out of their comfort zone and reached out to a man in need, a man who needed to be part of God’s family. Here they realised that just as God had stepped out of his comfort zone and called them home, they were now being called on to reach out to others in the same way. Here, a family who knew in their heads the theology of Christian hospitality, began to understand how Christian hospitality can work in reality. Here they were reaching out to the stranger and the person in need. Here was a family who were beginning to understand theological vision.

* This blog first appeared on in October, 2013.
[1] Timothy J. Keller. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Zondervan. Michigan. 2012

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Public Square and God's Comfort

David Pettett

In my previous article, I wrote about the tensions faced by a Christian chaplain who strives to bring the uniqueness of Christ into the pastoral encounter while ministering in the multi-cultural, multi-faith, public square. This tension is often faced by a chaplain who ministers in a public hospital or prison where the requirements of Government forbid chaplains to proselytise. A chaplain may well be the only chaplain of any Faith in a particular institution and, by the nature of the role, is expected to bring sensitive spiritual care to people of all Faiths and none. The question then is how does a Christian chaplain, who believes that God’s final word to humanity is in Christ, effectively minister to all people without compromising his or her own beliefs.

When Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger gave the keynote address at the New South Wales CPE annual conference in 2014 she began by saying that it is when she is fully and deeply grounded in her own Faith she is then able to reach out to people of other Faiths. To be an effective chaplain this attitude of being deeply rooted in your own Faith is essential. It demands and demonstrates integrity. It generates a confidence in one’s own ministry that is not threatened by strong beliefs of another Faith tradition. It is also not threatened by deeply held personal beliefs of another person. At the same time, it communicates to the other that this chaplain is a person of integrity and is also someone who has something valuable to offer in the pastoral encounter.

The chaplain takes the person they are into the pastoral encounter. Being comfortable with who you are and the Faith position you personally hold tends to communicate hope and strength if it is held without any sense of superiority. Your comfort with yourself and your position will enable you to bring comfort to others.

The apostle Paul describes the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:3) It is this compassion of the Father the Christian chaplain seeks to bring to the pastoral encounter. Its purpose is to bring comfort.

Paul describes himself in this passage as sharing “abundantly in the sufferings of Christ” (v.5). He is here describing himself as deeply rooted in the Christian Faith. “Abundantly sharing in the sufferings of Christ” enables him to bring comfort to others. As he does this, others may also see that, even in their own sufferings, they are able to share the same comfort the Apostle has. A comfort that comes from the “Father of compassion and all comfort.”

Clearly, Paul is speaking to believers in this passage.[1] The suffering that a non-Christian person has, cannot be described as a “sharing in the sufferings of Christ”. And yet, as the chaplain shares themselves with others who are suffering, the other can see that this person, the Christian sharing the sufferings of Christ, knows what suffering is about and, perhaps more importantly, knows what comfort in the midst of suffering is about. This comfort, which comes from God the Father, can speak to the person the chaplain seeks to bring comfort to. To bring this comfort, the chaplain needs to be deeply grounded in their own Faith. That is, they need to share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, because it is only then that they will know God’s comfort, which they can then bring to others.

Being who you are as a Christian enables you as a chaplain to bring real comfort to those in the public square who are suffering, whether that place be a hospital, a prison or any other context where Christians do not “own” the space. Sharing deeply in the sufferings of Christ grounds you in your own Faith and thereby enables you to bring comfort and encouragement to a hurting world.

[1] Paul has addressed this letter to “The church of God that is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:1) and he addresses his readers as “brothers” in v.8.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Christian pastoral care and multi-culturalism

David Pettett

In a recent post on the value of measuring outcomes of pastoral interventions in hospitals I asked the question about what is meant by ‘the spiritual needs of the patients’? What are ‘spiritual needs’? How are spiritual needs defined? When pastoral carers and healthcare professionals speak of ‘spiritual needs’, do they mean the same thing? Are we speaking the same language?

I suggested that we are not speaking the same language but that Christians who engage in pastoral care in public institutions never the less have a vital role to play. Ultimately the ‘outcomes’ of Christian pastoral care cannot be measured with any scientific accuracy. This is not to say that pastoral intervention has no ‘value’ or benefit. When patients are surveyed about how they feel after a pastoral intervention they generally report a positive outcome. These can sometimes be seen in shorter hospital stays, improved pain management and better cardiovascular outcomes.[1]

A survey conducted after a pastoral care intervention may record these measurable benefits but in fact Christian pastoral care brings a whole lot more. However, as the term ‘pastoral care’ itself is used more and more in a secular context, the distinctiveness of Christian pastoral care risks losing its unique focus and benefit. In another earlier post, I argued that a biblical understanding of the human condition, of who God is and of where the world is heading is the necessary basis for bringing real compassion and empowerment to suffering people in hard places. Pastoral ministry that relies only on psychological insights into the human condition and does not bring a biblical understanding is not pastoral ministry as Jesus brought it to those he encountered in their suffering and it is not the legacy Jesus left us.

My fear for pastoral ministry in the public square is that the unique insights into the human condition which a Christian understanding brings is at risk of following the secular agenda in an attempt to remain active and relevant in the public sphere. Yet if Christian pastoral carers lose the uniqueness of the Christian message in secular institutions, Christianity will lose its prophetic call to a world in need.

Pastoral care is not simply ‘intentional friendship’. In trying to work out how people from different faith backgrounds can work together in pastoral care David Oliphant claims to have developed the ‘philosophy’ of ‘intentional friendship’[2]. He offers this idea as the lowest common denominator by which people of different faiths and none can work alongside each other to bring ‘pastoral care’ to those who are suffering.

I must admit I do not understand why Christians see a need to lose their unique and prophetic voice in the face of multi culturalism and because they life in a multi faith community. Isn’t this the very context in which, to be faithful to our God and to be respectful of others, we must speak more of the uniqueness of Christ? If all our pastoral care is doing is achieving shorter hospital stays, better pain management, better cardiovascular outcomes, and respecting people of other faiths, then we fail as Christians in the world.

I am not advocating for disrespect of anyone of another faith. I am arguing for Christians to do better at working out how to be Christian in a multi-faith context. And I am arguing that this does not mean reaching an agreement on what we have in common and leaving the rest behind. What a grey world that would be. Multi-culturalism allows and celebrates our differences. It is the job of Christians to work out how we can best bring our unique message into a multi-faith, multi-cultural context in a way that respects both the demands of the government institutions in which chaplains minister and also respects people of other faiths and none who are created in the image of God.

To that end my future posts will explore how this can be done.

[1] See for example, Duncan Blake. Clinician and Carer Both Help Suffering, in Australian Journal of Pastoral Care and Health Vol. 5, No. 1 March 2011. pp. 11-14.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Empathy, emotional clusters and the accurate identification of the functions of pastoral care.

by Rev. Stuart Adamson

In the first section of this three part series on blogging chaplains back in September 2016, I looked at the way integrating pastoral experience and ongoing reflection on scripture can enhance our pastoral practice, and how, with an encouragement to enjoy learning and play with ideas, teaching resources can be modified and enhanced.

In this second section, I look at empathic listening and my concept of what I call "emotional clusters". After explaining what I believe emotional clusters are, I will outline how I believe they can help chaplains more accurately identify the pastoral need in the person they are caring for.

It is an act of love and respect to patients, parishioners, people we might be caring for, even a friend, if we take the time to listen to their heart - to really listen to what is going on for them.

But empathic listening is no exercise in parroting - merely restating and obvious emotion in another.

I call effective empathic listening "exegeting hearts".

We are big on exegesis of scripture in the Anglican diocese of Sydney. And for good reason. We have a high view of scripture as the Word of God and its power to change hearts. But I wonder if we might not be more effective pastors if we were less ready to jump to conclusions, and more ready to listen to people's hearts. The mouth speaks of what the heart is full.

I spent some time with someone today who I was determined to listen to.

As I listened and reflected back his emotions to him I developed an appreciation of his whole emotional state.

He was utterly exhausted. He was torn between private and work responsibilities. He felt he couldn't go on any longer. That he was approaching burnout. But he was highly motivated by a sense of duty, a desire to do the right thing and to be seen to do the right thing to the extent that he was prepared to keep working to his ongoing detriment.

In my early teaching of the six functions of pastoral care (or eight, as they have become in my training sessions (see the previous instalment in this three part series)), I taught that sustaining is the relevant pastoral function when someone is feeling overwhelmed.

The concept of emotional clusters brings greater nuance to the chaplain’s in-the-moment assessment of the one they are caring for.

Exhaustion. Feeling like he had come to the end of his rope. Physical depletion and personal illness. These were the words and phrases that came up in our discussion.

Together they cause the word overwhelmed to spring to mind.

In addition, an intense feeling of wanting to shout out in frustration, to be at a loved one's side, and an agreement that he was wanting to clear the decks and be there for them, but felt he could not leave his post. Added into the mix was a self loathing and an anger.

Together these finely nuanced expressions of emotion combine to build a strong feeling of being trapped. The function? Liberation.

Care that was both sustaining and liberating was needed.

But those needs were arrived at after much listening, after a patient identification of nuanced emotions that together formed emotional clusters that suggested two of the pastoral functions.

We prayed. He determined to raise the matter then and there with his employer.

He needed to give himself permission to stop and take practical steps to ensure the gathering vortex of unhealthy levels of stress did not draw him down to ongoing illness and burnout.

Empathic listening led to the identification of emotional clusters. Those clusters suggested two functions of pastoral care which facilitated, under God, ministry that was both sustaining and liberating.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The six functions of pastoral care – thinking pastorally, biblically and creatively to improve on a helpful model

by Stuart Adamson

Chaplains who know the value of empathic listening in getting to the heart of the matter in pastoral encounters may also be familiar with what is called in the trade, if I may call chaplaincy that, the functions of pastoral care. I was taught a model that introduces six functions, namely: guiding, healing, nurturing, reconciling, sustaining and liberating. Some say there are six, and that will do, others, such as Andrew Purves, in the early pages of his impressive “Reconstructing Pastoral Theology”, have been very critical of limiting areas of pastoral practice to an arbitrary number. I must say I have some sympathy for his view, and have done for some time.
As a chaplain in training, I remember the six functions being presented to me as framework for pastoral care. It was never presented to me as prescriptive, and I was encouraged to play with the model, test it out and see if it might need tweaking. I did so with reference to both my pastoral practice and to scripture. Now, as a lecturer in pastoral care, I encourage my students to do this with everything I teach, once they understand the concepts. And I did tweak the six functions model.
Over the years I discovered in my pastoral ministry that there are times when people want to celebrate with me. They actually host me with great love and enfold me in the most intimate and sweet times of celebration. Like the time the spinal patient who was admitted to the hospital where I serve. He came in unsure of who God was and six months later walked out a man sure that his name was written in the book of life. Or the leukaemia patient whose transplant went well and their immune system rebuilt and they went into full remission. Just like Zacchaeus, just like the loving Father, they wanted to celebrate. Experience and Scripture. So I added celebrating to the model and they became seven functions of pastoral care in my teaching.
Then, through a similar process, I discovered that some people I came across just wanted to pour out their sadness in the face of great tragedy. I remember a couple I sat with as we watched the life of their little one just ebb away. They just wanted to pour out their hearts to God. Yes they had the hope of heaven, but they needed to lament, along with the Psalmist. (I do wonder sometimes if we ever came across someone as expressive in their grief as the Psalmist that we would tell them to “suck it up” or regard him as weak or of questionable faith). So I adjusted the model to include lament, and it became the eight functions of pastoral care.
Then I went to Mark’s gospel and spent time reflecting on my own ministry as chaplain in light of scripture and I saw what Jesus did with new eyes. He forgives (reconciles), heals and liberates a paralysed man, yes, but he also rebukes, warns and cautions. He calls, appoints, sends out and delegates authority to his disciples and nurtures and explains patiently. He calls forth faith, and resurrects. He has compassion, provides food, nurtures and cares.
On one level, you could argue that the functions of pastoral care are as many and varied as the responses in human relationships and almost defy categorisation in Jesus’ ministry. On another, it is helpful for chaplains and pastors to reflect on their pastoral experience in light of Scripture if it results in clarifying our thinking about how best to respond to the people in need we meet every day.  
To come:
Part 2 Empathy, emotional clusters and accurate identification of the functions of pastoral care.
Part 3 The links in the chain - How empathic listening leads to good pastoral interventions. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Chaplaincy – speaking the language of suffering

Kate Bradford

"Trauma fractures comprehension as a pebble shatters a windshield. The wound at the site of impact spreads across the field of vision, obscuring reality and challenging belief." - Jane Leavy

I speak with theological students and medical students about caring for people who experience deep suffering. These students think widely and deeply about how to resolve problems, using highly disciplined cognitive framework. 

Patients and people requiring pastoral care in general, struggle to make sense of these difficult situations. They are deeply affected by what is happening to them. Cognition is altered and information based communication is frustrated.

Unless the medico or the theologian learns to speak the language of the sufferer effectively, communication is scrambled by the sufferer’s inability to hear clearly, as they are trapped behind the “shattered windshield”.

How do we learn to communicate with those who are struggling behind the shattered windshield?

A team working with palliative care patients concluded that a sensory model of spiritual care worked best,[i] expressed through hearing, sight, speech, touch and presence.

The authors of the article describe effective communication as an embodied experience that engages all the senses of both the professional, and the patient.

They describe hearing as listening intuitively, by paying particular attention to the tone of the conversation, the silences and the subtext. Deep listening requires humility and being alert to the possibility of hearing but not understanding.

They described sight as seeing soulfully, that is seeing the whole person ─ someone who bears God’s image ─ a person with dignity and a person who has a history and a narrative before I entered their life. Soulful sight takes in a person’s surroundings, their relationships and connections, it is not only see, but perceive.

Speech involved the art of taming the tongue, subduing our speech to engage with the patient’s perspective, that is the world through the patient’s understanding and language, building on their understanding, avoiding superficial clich├ęs and hollow scripts of comfort, and avoiding language that minimises their pain, denies their losses or catastrophes and terrifies them.

Touch provides for a physical means of pastoral care, appropriate physical contact can communicate things that words cannot. This may be through a hand that briefly rests on a shoulder, or a forearm, or holding a hand when someone is distressed, or laying on of hands (with permission) while praying. These allow for a physical conduit of care that connects at a deep level.

Presence is the activity of being truly present and available in body, mind, and spirit. So much is communicated by how we are ─ posture and positioning ─ through power, pity, gender, health, status, age, education, language and professional roles. To be present is to be wholly available to the other; we give the gift of self. Presence can convey professional vulnerability, where we do not need to be the expert on another’s experience. When we are truly present, focus spiritually and pray for another in Jesus’ name, we communicate God’s infinite love and concern to the sufferer.

The Gospels describe Jesus as a person who ministered to sufferers through sensory care.

Jesus always engaged at a spiritual level and when talking with people he employed a vast array of communication styles.  When engaging with well people, Jesus asked many questions – perceptive questions, which cut to the heart of the matter.[ii] When speaking to crowds he used parables and metaphors, and enigmatic statements that overturned preconceptions. When talking with teachers of the law and Pharisees he was blunt and to the point rebuking and challenging points of law, which had been torn from their original moorings in scripture.  However, when Jesus was with people who were suffering, he had an approach that was insightful, gently spoken and often involved touch. He gave his complete attention and was willing to be pulled away from his travels to attend personally to those who suffered various forms of illness and disability. [iii]

Below I have listed a number of Jesus’ engagements with people who were suffering from physical disabilities. A strong pattern emerges when the accounts are viewed together. When Jesus is with a sufferer or their family, he gives them his complete attention. He listens deeply to their account of their suffering, expresses pity and acts compassionately. He often goes to the sufferer or takes them by the hand to some quiet place. His words are gentle. He does not preach to the sufferer even if he is making a theological point to someone else (i.e. Pharisees or other on-lookers) and on a number of occasions he commends people for their faith or their willingness to ‘try’ him.

In summary Jesus’s example of spiritual/pastoral care with people in the midst of suffering includes:

a) Careful listening to the event from the point of view of the sufferer

b) Seeing the entire person, inside and out. But he does not presume. He treats them with dignity, love and respect.

c) He speaks gently, offering only words of comfort and reputation. He uses simple language, without hyperbole or parables and does not use these opportunities to preach.

d) Jesus uses touch. This a constant theme as he meets with sufferers; he does not fear their illnesses or diseases. His ‘cleanness’ flows out of his body through physical contact.

e) Jesus is entirely present during these encounters even if there are crowds nearby or looking on. The sufferer has his full attention and he is at their service.

These are critical observations, because although we are not Jesus, we are instructed to have the same attitude of Christ Jesus. Jesus was, on many occasions, an engaging orator ─ questioning, provoking and challenging ─ but when he was with people who suffered he seemed to come to their level and saw things through their eyes. His response restored their shattered world in ways that were meaningful to them.


Quick notes and Bible (ESV) references of evidence of Jesus’ style of engagement with people who had physical ailments.

·         Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hands and touch him (leper), saying, “I will; be clean.”  Mark 1:41, Matt 8:3; Lk 5:13

·         And he (Jesus) said to him, “I will come and heal him” Matt 8:7

·         And when the Lord saw her he had compassion on her, he went up to her and said, “Do not weep,” then he came and touched the bier…. And said “Young man, I say to you arise,’ … and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Lk 7:13-16

·         He touched her hand and the fever left her Matt 8:13

·         To the paralytic, “Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven” Matt 9:2

·         Then he touched their eyes Matt 9:29

·         He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose, Matt 9:25

·         Take heart daughter, your faith has made you well. And instantly the woman was made well.  Matt 9:22

·         And taking him aside from the crowd, privately he put his fingers in his ears and after spitting touched his tongue Mk 7:33

·         And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village Mk 8:23

·         And he laid his hand on her and immediately she was made straight Lk 13:13

·         And he touched his ear and healed him Lk 22:50

·         Jesus said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I’m going another steps down before me.” Jesus said, “Get up take up your bed and walk.” And at once the man was healed Jn 5:6-9

·         He spat on the ground and made mud with saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with mud, and said, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.” Jn 9:6,7


[i] Adapted from “Spiritual Care: how to do it” Sinclair, Bouchal, Chochinov, Hagen and McClement, BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care 2012/2 319-327.
[ii]  An article that summarises the way Jesus uses questions in conversations as recorded in the Gospels.
[iii] A webpage that lists 31 biblical references for accounts of Jesus’ healing.