In seminary I had one official Pastoral Care course--you know, the one called "Pastoral Care". I was fortunate to also have Contextual Education with an amazing woman, Dr. Carol Newsom, at a good site where I was allowed to do one on one counseling, lead a group session about misogyny and women's issues (at an all men's facility), lead worship, paint, share meals, etc. My second year I had a church setting where I continued to have wonderful advisement. (Thank you Dr. Roberta Bondi). Then my third year I was assigned to do pastoral visits at yet another church, and also had CPE, which is pastoral care training to the nth degree. All of that is to say, I've had a lot of training in care giving, in various settings, with people from all walks of life. Nevertheless, there were a number of things that I was not trained for, and some days, I wonder if I'm even equipped to deal with them.
This month has proven to highlight some of those deficiencies for me:
1) Receiving a call from a care facility about one of your parishioners who has become physically abusive with the staff. "Hi Pastor Debbie, um....A is hitting the staff." Oh, great. Now, what exactly is it you thought I would do?!?!? Did you think she wouldn't hit me too? "Oh, no. I'm sorry H. I'll be there in about 5 minutes." So I go over and the whole time I'm wondering, what do I do if she hits me? Can I restrain her? Can I restrain her without breaking her fragile 90 year old body? Could she really be hitting that hard? Oh man, where was the class on this?!!? In light of the physically combatant fact, it started me thinking about what I would do if I were called into a domestic violence situation and someone tried to hit me. Or what if one of the folks who comes to the church high were to flip and start hitting me....what exactly is protocol? No one trained me for that.
2) Figuring out what, how, and how much aid/assistance to provide to those who ask, especially at Christmas. Throughout the year folks come all the time to the church with various needs: a hotel stay, a bus pass, clothes, a shave, food, toys, money, etc. Fortunately we have a pantry, so we can refer most folks to the pantry to get what we have there. In many ways I think that uncomplicates things, it's sort of like "well, this is what our church has committed to provide, that's what we have and can offer, but that's about it." There are occasions where a person's situation or spirit speaks to me and I do go and get them a hotel for the night, or buy extra food, or take diapers over...something. But there are not clearly defined limits. Not at our church anyway. And my method of evaluation is pretty subjective...I'm not sure how "I just trusted my gut" stands up in court (or even to the one I refused aid). But the holidays are particularly difficult. People come in quite regularly. They don't have Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner. They don't have gifts for their kids or grandkids. There aren't toys. There aren't clothes. There aren't underwear. There is a lot of need. And as someone who has rarely had to go without, it sometimes baffles me how there can be so many folks who can't even afford underwear. (But after shopping for some of these families and easily spending $50 on underwear--that's one week's worth, maybe, I can see how people can't afford them.)
There's always fears about scams and double dipping. That's a big part of the reason we don't offer cash. One can easily become jaded by an encounter with just one or two scammers. But there are folks who genuinely need these things. If someone comes in and asks for underwear for their kids, I can hardly say no. I mean, it's underwear. No one should have to go without underwear. Come on. And then I hit a wall again, there's limited funds. Limited resources and so much need. What, how much, and when do I supply someone's needs. And just for the record, those pastoral care classes/trainings/experiences I had in seminary, did NOT prepare me for the heartbreak involved in knowing that a 6 year old is absolutely ecstatic that she's getting underwear for Christmas, and that that might be her only gift. Nothing.
I'm sure there are other examples of what I was not trained to do, but for now, I actually have to get back to the practice of ministry.