WES Blog — Pastoral – it doesn’t just mean a meadow

A WES member will ask to speak with me about something in their life, and we’ll make an appointment for them to come in. They’ll sit down, and start a sentence, and then stop. Start and stop. And then they’ll say something like: “is this okay to talk with you about? do you do this?”

One of the things I find most moving about serving a congregation where many people have had no prior relationships with clergy is that you are often discovering for the first time what a clergy person can do or be for you. And yes, one of the things we can do and be is a listener–someone to tell the hard things to, someone to walk on difficult journeys with you, someone to help you find your own way with support and questions and reflection. It’s called pastoral counseling, and it’s one of my greatest honors to be able to offer it to you.

And I’m not the only one! Zeb Green, our clergy intern, is also available for pastoral counseling, for which he has received specialized training as I have. Neither of us are therapists, and that’s important–we will sometimes refer out if we think a therapist is needed, and most clergy have a general rule that they’ll meet with someone about a particular topic three times and then it’s definitely time for a referral. Our support is not clinical or diagnostic; I often think of it as walking with or listening with someone on their journey.

Zeb and I are supported by a team of Pastoral Care Associates, too (Beth Baker, Rose Imhoff, Justine Johnson, Joh Klein, and Bryan Pashigian). Often you see Pastoral Care Associates showing up in practical ways, helping to coordinate meals for a couple weeks when someone is sick, for instance. But they are also trained in listening, and part of their work is simply to be present for people. They might call someone who they know is having a hard time, or check in after a loss. And Justine Johnson and Rose Imhoff in particular have made themselves available for a new initiative we’re calling Phone a Friend.

If you are having a lonely moment–not something you think rises to the level of needing “pastoral counseling” but just wishing that you had someone to chat with–Justine and Rose would be glad to receive your call, within typical waking hours. You can find their numbers in the WES directory online or in hard copy (pick one up in the office!), and they really do hope you’ll call if you want to talk. It’s like those game shows when the contestants are struggling to think of an answer and need just a little bit of help: Phone a Friend.

As with any conversation you have of a pastoral nature with Zeb, our Pastoral Care Associates, or me, those conversations are confidential, with an exception if we are worried about you harming yourself or others. We also can work with you if you decide you would like to share more with the community, in the form of a Caring News email. What you share and with whom is your choice.

Whether you need a friend to simply connect with, or whether you are struggling with something bigger in your life and would like to talk with Zeb or with me, we hope you’ll be in touch. Because yes, we do this. Not just your clergy, but all of us: we, in a community like WES, create space and time for the conversations that matter. Thank you for the honor of your invitation into your lives.

Amanda Poppei