The pastoral caregiver/person (also a counsellor) is not only a listener to stories but also a bearer of stories and a story. The pastoral counsellor does not come empty-handed to the task of understanding the other’s story and offering the possibility of a new interpretation. Forever embodies those transformational stories. Stories that affect horizontal relationships as well as virtual ones.
The pastoral listener and counsellor brings his or her interpretation of life experience with its use of commonly held symbols, images, religious, political and themes from the cultural milieu of the pastoral caregiver and the private, nuanced meanings that have been shaped by the caregiver’s own life experience and its personal-private interpretation.
Not only that, but the pastoral caregiver also brings whatever he or she has collected to the task from the spiritual and religious images, concepts, theories, and methodologies of the disciplines that undergird pastoral caregiving—theology, psychology, communications, systems theory, and the like. As a representative of the field of pastoral care, the caregiver has stood and continues to stand on the boundaries that separate societal worlds, each offering its interpretation of the human situation, sin and its condition.
From all this life experience on boundaries between a multi-cultural society and worlds, the pastoral brings to his or her task a veritable storehouse of spiritual, emotional, relational and religious images, interpretive notions, and connections between meaning and the data of experience.
Therefore, pastoral caregiving is primarily the art of drawing upon those storehouses in the formation of a response to the heard story of the one seeking help.
That process, when joined with the process of hearing accurately the story of the other as one having a language and integrity of its own, opens the way to a dialogical and personal encounter from which a new and more hopeful interpretive story for the other’s experience may emerge. Emerge for the bearer and the teller of the story. After all, the Bible is indeed the most excellent story. Each author, prophet, priest and Christ’s followers have had an interaction with the gospel news. Each has experienced a significant transformational change. So, it is today that telling the story continues to transform lives if the storyteller and story bearer are open, transparent, honest and engaged with the story. Believing and acting becomes a vehicle in the transformation.
Pastoral caregiving may thus be understood as a dialogical hermeneutical process involving the pastoral counsellor (caregiver) and counselee in communication across
the boundaries of language worlds.
The dialogue takes place at many levels, some between the counsellor and counselee, still more within the counsellor as he or she sorts through the images, themes, and symbols of the various disciplines that have been appropriated in a search for life and life with purpose, and one that makes sense out of what is being experienced and heard (reframing of their possible dysfunctional story). The story of Ruth and Naomi is an excellent example of such a hermeneutical dialogue.
Dr Steve Thomas is the Senior Pastor of Chiswick and Acton churches and a clinical chaplain