Clergy Letter

From a clergy desk:

What does the word pastoral mean to you? When we say that our church has good pastoral ministry, what is Saint John’s doing well? If we look at scripture, the motif of Jesus as the shepherd fits well with the rural metaphor of a pastor who cares for the flock of the parish, both leading and guiding them. But for me, this metaphor is a limiting one. It implies that only a pastor is pastoral, whereas we all are. Let me explain. Whenever a sides person gives you your hymnbook and notices when you come into church for the Sunday service, they are in fact serving you and this is a pastoral activity. If a friend needs a lift to church and you provide it, then you are serving the friend and this is also a pastoral activity. In fact, any activity which involves serving others is pastoral: flower arranging, tea and coffee after services, being a warden or a member of the PCC is a serving activity and as the name implies, so also is a sanctuary server.

The mistake people make when thinking about pastoral ministry is to confuse the activities of the shepherd which belong to a few, with the activities of a server which belong to many. Of course the shepherd serves, but so do the sheep. So why is it important to make a distinction between the two? It’s because the words pastoral ministry seem to be something that one associates with theological training and indeed to be a pastoral assistant one needs to take a short course sponsored by the Diocese… Sally Peters has been joined by Jean Spencer, the last person from our Parish to have undertaken this training. Since her training Jean has been a very effective Pastoral Assistant, visiting the recently bereaved and encouraging them to church. Our church attendance could increase if we had more Pastoral Assistants and this needs to be encouraged.

I think it would be beneficial to create a circle of pastoral servers that not only include Pastoral Assistants but all of us and I think this will help us to take ownership of the concept. The scripture to accompany Pastoral Service is found in the gospels by the unsung heroes, the women who helped the disciples, providing food and serving them and offering gifts such as on the occasion when one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him. When he went in to the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table, a woman who was described by Luke as a sinner brought an alabaster jar of ointment and began to bathe his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. In doing so she showed great love to Jesus and in return he forgave her of her sins. This was an act of Pastoral service. She was not trained but knew what to do in order to support Jesus in his ministry.

It is a wonderful example that Pastoral service is not exclusively for the trained or even the righteous but for sinners as well, and that’s lucky isn’t it… we all fall short from time to time! I hope that this short letter gets you to consider just how much pastoral service you are already providing to your brothers and sisters in our parish. In the months ahead we shall be celebrating this. So watch this space!

 Dermot Verschoyle, Assistant Curate


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