What makes a good pastoral care system in our churches?

Pastoral care is a key feature of our Methodist life and so we can aim to build on what people already do well.

Having an efficient pastoral care system that is well co-ordinated by a pastoral care secretary who can advise on best practice, offer support and ensure pastoral visitors are properly trained for their role is essential. Knowing both members and worshipers as individuals will, for example, help to identify those who are less mobile and may need a helping hand to move around the building, always letting them take the arm of a helper and going at their own pace.  Church leaders and pastoral teams will know who prefers to talk about things and those who welcome more silent support. Offering prayerful support is a usual part of our church life too.

Most visits to someone in their own home will be straightforward as they will be well known to the church. But if visiting someone new for the first time it’s probably best for pastoral visitors to let someone else know whom and when they are visiting.

  • Visiting in twos may be advisable as well as taking a mobile phone and some identification such as a visiting card that your church will probably provide.
  • Be aware of and plan for any particular issues that could affect the visit, such as a pet.
  • On entering, keep to the common courtesies, your host will probably show you where to go.
  • Be clear about what support can be offered to the vulnerable person if they ask for some help with particular problems and refer back to the church if uncertain.
  •  Don’t make any referrals to any agency that could provide help without the person’s permission, and ideally encourage him/herself to set up the contact. Support can be offered to them to do this.
  • Encourage visitors to report back about their visit and say what is concerning or going well.

Church members offering pastoral support should be aware of their own vulnerabilities too – so many of our churches have a loyal band of increasingly elderly members who are the bedrock of our pastoral ministry. They should be encouraged to take care of themselves and they can also benefit from active support that helps them to manage what they can and cannot do. Dementia sufferers, for example, may often use language or behave in ways that are upsetting but there are resources available to help pastoral visitors understand what may be happening. Ministers, too, should think about their own needs in this respect.

Pastoral visitors should be wary of accepting any gifts from vulnerable adults other than token items, to avoid misunderstandings or malicious accusations from the person or their family. If in any doubt early consultation with the minister is strongly advised.