The term pastoral care is widely used by groups and organisations to describe a variety of things and activities associated with organisational function. It is a term that at times is misunderstood or even misused.
I am reminded of an analogy that I came across a number of years ago by Kevin Treston, in ‘Choosing Life’ – Pastoral Care for School Communities, who refers to a story about Emperor Penguins to explain the spirit of pastoral care.
‘During the winter in the Antarctica, there are winds which roar across the frozen land at 200 kms per hour and the temperature plunges to –50 degrees. No emperor penguin could survive on its own. To survive, the penguins huddle in a vast circular group. Collective warmth keeps those inside warm. Those on the outside bear the icy blasts of the howling winds and protect those on the inside of the circle. The penguins on the outer circle would soon perish in the cold so the vast circle shuffles in an anti-clockwise direction, with the inside ones moving slowly to the outside and the outside penguins moving to the inner circle. Every penguin shares an equal amount of cold and warmth.’
2 Corinthians 1: 3-5 provides a beautiful picture of pastoral care that God provides for each us.
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.’
Fundamental to our understanding of pastoral care within a Lutheran learning community is the belief in the dignity of each member of the community, created in the likeness of God who is worthy of respect and love. Pastoral care is the expression of the caring partnership between members of the learning community (students, staff and parents), the Church and wider community. It aims to integrate the academic, social, emotional and spiritual dimensions so that an atmosphere of care pervades the whole learning community. It fosters taking responsibility both for one’s own expressions and actions and also in one’s relating to others, which leads to the moderation of behaviour through self-correction and self-discipline. It acknowledges that social justice comes with rights and responsibilities.
There are many facets to the pastoral care exemplified within learning communities. It is evident in policies, the facilitation of learning, counselling, yard supervision, interviews with parents, staff – student relations and much more, all of which reflect and demonstrate the quality and authenticity of pastoral care provided.
Importantly, Pastoral Care in our learning communities is a oneness that leaves no one behind.