WES Blog — Pastoral Perseverance

Our theme this month is perseverance. I just want to take a moment to note that we all carry so much hurt and pain in our daily lives. We often struggle to persevere. It can be hard to know how we’re going to face the next the day.


In what ways can The Washington Ethical Society help and support each other through the turbulence of life?


I’ve been thinking a lot about our Pastoral Care Associates and the pastoral role of clergy leaders lately. What does the term “pastoral” even mean? The definition that I knew before seminary was that it involved farming. Three years of theological education later, I still can’t help you with livestock. Although, since religious language is often drawn to shepherding analogies, pastoral has developed to encompass the tending and care of people’s emotional, personal, and spiritual lives.    


I’ve been thinking about pastoral themes because, In addition to my time at WES, I am serving as a chaplain intern with Sibley Memorial Hospital in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). The purpose of this internship is to familiarize upcoming clergy with responding with grace to sudden emergencies. CPE internships are a requirement for all UU clergy.


Over the course of the day, I might listen to a person being screened for cancer about their fears, their family history, about their hopes. Next, I might be called to bless a newborn infant and celebrate with a family. Then be called to sit with a family that is processing the loss of a loved one.


Working in the hospital, we also encounter different faiths and ways of being in the world. Each patient can fall anywhere on the spectrum of belief. At best, we might only have a one word description of a person’s belief. “Christian,” “Jewish,” “Catholic,” “None,” doesn’t help much. I’ve met atheists whose charts said Christian; I’ve met nones that have wanted to debate the nature of souls. Chaplains are trained to meet all people where they are, regardless of our preconceived notions- sometimes regardless of the chart.


  We are trained to do this because in our congregations anything can happen at any time. We know that our members have different backgrounds and beliefs. The hospitals prepare us to respond with grace when the crises happen. It helps us have that pastoral and compassionate presence when the congregation needs understanding and support.


As we look at perseverance, we can remember that we do not have to go it alone. The pastoral work at WES gives room for people to let their guard down, to express vulnerabilities, to share burdens. Our approach to perseverance is not about telling people to pull themselves up. The approach is to say that we are listening. We are here to support each other through the trying times. We will meet you where you are.



Zeb Green, Clergy Intern