“When I gave you too much information and went on about my situation, you were able to pull me out of my story,” replied a recent congregant requesting spiritual support through our prayer request line. Wow! Wouldn’t your ministry’s soul sing knowing you facilitated a shift in consciousness at least for that moment?
A strong pastoral care program grounded in foundational Unity teachings facilitates individuals’ personal growth, supports their health and wellness, and uplifts them when they have difficulty seeing the Divine in their circumstances, especially in times of loss or during life’s challenges.
How can your ministry create an effective “in-reach” pastoral care program?
At Unity of the Triangle, we realized that ministers cannot be all things to all congregants. In order to find a way to better meet congregant’s needs, we met with key volunteers. Then our team identified our ministry’s pastoral care needs and created specific programs to address those needs. A tiered approach allows volunteers and staff to support one another in a variety of ways. It also provides more in-depth spiritual and emotional support to those with the greatest need.
The First Tier Is Preventative
By offering classes, training and workshops, congregants have an opportunity to learn how their thoughts and actions create their reality. Experiential exercises bring the concepts into daily practice. Staff, outside professionals or even congregants may offer education. We all know individuals who attend workshop after workshop, but still walk away not knowing how to integrate the knowledge into their daily lives. This tier assists congregants in walking their talk.
The Second Tier Is Prayer Support
Affirmative prayer is Unity’s foundation. Our ministry practices prayer and meditation in a variety of ways. Holding a sacred prayer consciousness for others offers trained volunteers an opportunity to serve while maintaining healthy boundaries. We don’t fix anyone, but we do practice seeing an individual’s consciousness rising above the circumstance.
Congregants may request prayer through our confidential prayer request line, the Sunday prayer box, or from volunteer prayer chaplains before and after Sunday services. Members receive a “wellness call” from their assigned volunteer prayer chaplain, who offers prayer support once a month. If the member is unavailable, the prayer chaplain leaves a brief affirmative prayer message. Members frequently allow the call to go to voice mail so they are able to listen to the message throughout the month. We frequently hear, “I loved your message. It was just what I needed.” That is how Spirit works, right? For shut-in members, their prayer chaplain is the main contact to the spiritual community.
The volunteer prayer chaplain program is a one-year commitment. We provide extensive training through the Light and Love Ministries Prayer Chaplain Program. Being a prayer chaplain is a gift you give yourself. By committing to a daily prayer life and serving others, volunteers grow spiritually, feel a strong bond with and support from other prayer chaplains, and comment, “How could I not be a prayer chaplain!”
While prayer chaplains pray one-on-one with congregants, the Sacred Prayer Circle volunteers hold the names submitted in the weekly prayer box in their daily private prayers. Since they only have the first name without the actual prayer request, this invisible prayer team is able to hold the highest level of consciousness for those requesting prayer. A Spiritual Deepening Workshop is offered every six months to train new members on how to pray and meditate on the Divine Light without focusing on the circumstance. Every Thursday at noon, team members participate in a 15-minute guided meditation via teleconference to support their private prayer practice. The meditation is recorded and posted on Facebook so all congregants have an opportunity to feel uplifted once a week.
A future plan includes developing a prayer chaplain program for the youth. Young children are readily connected to Spirit so nourishing their hunger for more will provide valuable tools for later in life.
During the Sunday service a prayer chaplain leads a prayer with the prayer box, both teams (prayer chaplains and Sacred Prayer Circle) are asked to stand to assist in holding sacred space. We have a dream that one day all congregants will be standing and trained in sacred prayer.
The Third Tier Is Health and Loss Challenges
Life happens. People get sick, loved ones pass, jobs change, divorce takes place or individuals have difficulty facing life in general. How their spiritual community supports them during these times frequently determines their commitment to the ministry. Have you ever heard a congregant say, “My minister did not come visit me when …”?
The Extended Care Team, made up of experienced past prayer chaplains, visit congregants in the hospital and in the home during brief or extended illness. They provide emotional support through affirmative prayer and compassionate listening. They are an adjunct to ministerial visits providing more coverage when needed. This caring team also supports those facing end of life illnesses.
For short-term health needs, the volunteer Friend in Deed team provides meals and transportation to doctor’s visits for congregants home bound, disabled or unable to drive after surgery or illness.
Personalized cards, including a prayer message, lift up congregants experiencing a health or loss challenge.
Social groups by age offer emotional support on an ongoing basis.
The Fourth Tier Is Spiritual Counseling and End of Life Services
If a congregant still has a need beyond prayer and spiritual support from volunteers, the ministers provide one-on-one spiritual counseling when requested. With a large baby boomer congregation, end of life services are now more prevalent requiring the ministers to provide more personal contact and counseling with families experiencing loss and grief. Future plans include more grief-related services. [Editor’s note: additional support for end of life preparation or navigation can be provided through your ministry’s website via Unity Worldwide Ministries’ resource: My Estate Manager.]
Let congregants know what you offer by using brochures, fliers, posters, social media, electronic newsletters and a current website. Repeat your message. Congregants may not remember what you offer until they need a service. Making it easy for them to get the information is key to meeting their needs timely and compassionately. See Unity of the Triangle’s Pastoral Care Program brochure.
How has a strong pastoral care program made a difference at Unity Church of the Triangle?
A tiered approach spreads out the growth and transformation of its congregants based on their ability and commitment level. It also empowers the congregation, and shifts the focus away from the ministers having to do all of the pastoral care. The ministers’ attention and energy is now better utilized for their core skills and purpose. As more congregants become involved in prayer and service to others, the consciousness of the ministry is deepened, the ministry’s growth is stabilized, and congregants feel a strong sense of community.