Richard’s Guide To Apocalyptic Pastoral Care

It is hard not to develop an apocalyptic world view after a major hurricane, extensive property damage, the rise of hunger and unemployment in your small community, and people dying. Winter was hard and spring doesn’t seem to be any easier. The cancer diagnoses and the words “stage iv” keep being bandied about like new players for the Red Sox or Yankees. My family, the congregation I serve, is dealing with one death after another. I am tired. The grieving seems endless. Resurrection is an idea we’ve only had the opportunity to discuss in worship between funerals and discussing new diagnoses.   This isn’t me being glib.  I’m just looking at the calendar.  This Easter (and the week after) God seems to have gone on vacation.   If you see Her, tell Her to call.

Welcome to Richard’s guide to apocalyptic pastoral care.  What do I do?  I listen more than I speak. I don’t know what to say. I never did really, isn’t that what they teach you in pastoral care. Just listen, be present. When I do stand up and turn to the service of death and resurrection, I’ve read the opening “Gathering and Greeting” so many times now, I swear the congregation is mouthing the words along with me. Our death rituals have become predictable, set piece dramas. No one is looking for the twist at the end. I say Sunday is coming. I quote Tony Campolo. I receive blank stares. My community wants to tell me what their oncologist said, they don’t want to know Tony Campolo’s clichés. I listen. Then I pray. We pray. No one turns down prayer.

1. Never go visiting on an empty stomach. Not because you’re expecting to be fed but you’re not yourself if you’re hungry. (See Snickers commercials.)

2. Take some tissues. Be prepared to cry.

3. Keep your hands free to hug.

4. Practice saying the words, “I don’t know”. Use them. Don’t make stuff up.

5. Silence is better than religious gibberish.

6. When I need to say something, I sometimes ask “what would my dad say?”

7. Let others speak.

8. Remember John Donne: Death Be Not Proud

9. You’re not there to fix God’s role in human mortality. No fixing aloud.  Don’t be Job’s friends.

10. Pray before you leave.  Put words to your feelings.