When I was in seminary, one of the required courses for those of us on the pastoral track was Pastoral Care– how you deal with people in crisis or who are going through life changes of some sort. I found the information presented in this class very useful for in some way or another, as I find myself doing pastoral care almost every day of my job.
But, ultimately what was most useful to me in my introductory Pastoral Care class was the practice of it. While many seminaries assign internships with classes like this, at Duke Divinity, most of us were already doing church internships. An extra outside the classroom experience wasn’t necessary. So, we were asked to practice each week of that semester on each other.
It went something like this: each of my classmates and I were assigned a group of around 5-6 people. Each week when we met with our groups, it would be the responsibility of one of the group members to bring a story to share about a situation in their life that needed great discernment. The person would tell their story (with time limits to keep us all focused). No one would be able to say anything to the person sharing until they were through. Afterwards, the rest of the group was allowed to ask open ended questions which probed the story told just a little. We would always conclude the session with prayer.
While I was a bit intimidated at this process in the beginning, this small group became one of my favorite memories of seminary. There was just something amazing about truly being heard by a group of peers. It created space for me through the stories I shared with them to reach a new life of discernment and peace that I might have not otherwise received.
I share all of this because at Washington Plaza we have opportunities for women to have this same experience. A new women’s group was formed last year which meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month. Over the past several months, they have been engaging in the practice of deep listening.
I visited the group last night and what I found was a storyteller and a group of women all committed to listening well and asking good questions. There was a gift of listening space unlike any I’d seen in a long while in a church setting. The storyteller was encouraged to share openly, even of the less favorable parts of the story by the loving posture of the group. They were not going to leave until the storyteller had been heard fully.
I left this “holy space” of sorts thankful that we have offered these group member such a gift. It is a transformative experience just to be listened to well. My hope is that our congregation can find ways for this to happen with those who need it the most, mabye even in other groups like this one.