Queen's counsel XIV

October 2002

The second practical module that we studied during the last term of our first year at Queen's College was named "Pastoral Theology" and we spent the first session trying to establish what this topic was intended to cover. The question was highlighted by one of the essay titles for the module that read: "'There is no such thing as Christian Pastoral Care' - explore what pastoral care is by evaluating this statement". How would you respond to this?

One of the delights of studying with mature students, as we all are on the West Midlands Ministerial Training Course at Queen's, is the breadth of experience that we bring to the Course. Many people come from the caring professions but one comes as a practising farmer and shepherd. So, it was a special privilege for her to be given a slot telling us what this means in practical terms. In caring for her flock (we still use this term for our congregation, don't we?), she highlighted a whole range of attitudes and concerns that parallel how we care for one another.

Our shepherd told us of how she gets to know all of her sheep and, at lambing time, the first thing she does as she monitors the flock is simply to stand and listen. She has learnt to take in through her senses when there is something wrong or when a sheep is having difficulty in lambing. She ensures that there is good bonding between the sheep and her lambs by keeping them all in separate pens so that the mother can get to know her own lamb by smell, touch and sound. And they know her, the shepherd - she can go into the field and they stay lying down, knowing her and trusting in her presence.

One definition of pastoral care that I particularly like is that it seeks "to help people to know love, both as something to be received and as something to give" (Alastair Campbell in Paid to care?). I read into this that love is mysteriously ambiguous, being acted out between humans but also between humanity and the divine; and, this is where the theology comes in. It is clearly echoed in the first epistle of Saint John when he says: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God" (1.John 4:7).

Celtic spirituality expresses it, in a typically and prayerfully balanced way, like this:

May the Father of Life pour out His grace on you,
May the Son of God be Lord in all your ways,
May His Spirit comfort you, and make you strong,

May He shepherd you the length of all your days,
And in your heart may He receive the praise;
This is my prayer for you.

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This page was last updated on 2002-07-31

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