Pastoral Care for us all

In our Deanery we are very lucky to have some wonderful richness of wisdom and the following is from the Rev Rosie Deeds who has been a Prison Chaplain and recently was the much loved chaplain of the Hospice.

Her recent book on Pastoral Care (I will attach a link on a post to come) is a deep and moving read and her compassion and openness of mind shines through. Standing as she always had on the fringes of the established church looking outwards she acts as a translator and a prophet, speaking the language of the world. In this time when we are unable to congregate in our churches and indulge in the rituals and ‘church speak’ that characterizes our religion so we must find our faith in the language of our everyday lives. Rosie is a wonderful guide in this.

Here are her most recent thoughts..

Pastoral care and the coronavirus: What can we do?

The situation is changing daily and we are having to think differently about every aspect of our lives; from how we eat; to how we wash; to how we work; to how we communicate. What may seem sensible today may not tomorrow. Times are uncertain and the landscape is unfamiliar.

People are understandably anxious. Some may be panicking. No-one is immune emotionally or psychologically; we don’t yet know who if any is immune physically.

We need those who are grounded, hopeful and centred to be present and available to those who are worried and scared. We must reach out to one another with compassion and understanding – not from a position of power, but from the reality that we are all in this together.

My 87-year-old mother loves company and is frustrated when she cannot get out of her flat every day. I thought she would struggle as her activities were cancelled, her routine dramatically changed and she faced the strong possibility that she would be socially isolated for several weeks, if not months. I was surprised by her positive outlook. Far from feeling sorry for herself, she was drawing strength from solidarity and was showing compassion by reaching out to her elderly peer group and church community – ringing them and writing them letters. She was finding a purpose in supporting others, and in doing so was helping herself to cope.

I recently saw a news item from Italy: people came to the windows of their flats at the same time, and applauded. They were showing their gratitude to the medics in a nearby hospital who have been working tirelessly in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. These people, who were virtually prisoners in their own homes, were able to recognise and appreciate the efforts of others, and together found a meaningful, powerful and deeply moving way of showing their appreciation. The medics in turn, came out of the hospital acknowledged the applause, and returned to the task of caring, hopefully strengthened.

We are all going to have to think about how we offer kindness, care and encouragement to one another in the weeks ahead. Pastoral care, face to face, may not be possible, as we are confined to our homes for the greater good and protection of the wider community. For many ministers, like myself, this is a game changer. How do you reach out to others when you can’t see them? How do you help people not to feel so alone without the compassionate human contact?

Since 1953 when The Samaritans was created, compassionate care has been available to the most vulnerable, via the telephone. Calling someone has been literally a life-line for countless people who have felt suicidal and depressed. No one can measure how many lives have been saved as a result of this service. From this reality it is clear that genuine care can be given and received in ways other than directly.

Making contact through phone calls, letters, email, skype, Facebook as well as knocking on someone’s door and standing at a safe distance, may all help to reduce the horrors of loneliness which has been the other pandemic of our modern Western age. Ministers and those in community leadership roles, may be in a position to coordinate rotas of care like this, but they needn’t be the sole providers. My Mum is energised by still having something meaningful to contribute to society. Maybe there are others who would also benefit from feeling purposeful again.

And this……

Stay connected; pray connected

Anyone who has served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure will know the meaning and feeling of a lockdown. In prison “lockdown” means that every prisoner is confined to their cell for an indefinite period while a situation is calmed; a refractory prisoner is moved to another area; or a search for contraband – illegal drugs, hooch (in-cell home-brewed alcohol), or mobile phones is carried out.

Prisoners spend lengthy periods each day in a small space – in prison slang, it is called “bang-up”. They are behind locked doors in a confined room in which there is a bed, a toilet, a cupboard and a chair. They may have a TV, or radio, possibly some books and magazines. They may or may not have a cell-mate. If they do, there is no guarantee that they will get on.

Prisoners and their families experience lengthy periods, months, weeks, even years of separation, with only the occasional visit if they are lucky, and phone calls when the regime permits. Prison puts immense pressure on every person in a family and not every relationship survives.

What I discovered in my time as a prison chaplain, however, is the extraordinary inventiveness and resilience of the human character. When adversity strikes, we find ways to get through and to adapt. A prisoner and his wife had found a way to maintain a meaningful connection despite the distance between them and the limited face-to-face or verbal communication they could have. They set aside a short period towards the end of each day, after all the prisoners were locked in their cells, to consciously think about each other. In this way they found a way to cement their relationship, and their relationship stood the test of “time” served.

Now it is not only prisoners who have to find a way of coping with restrictions and loss of liberty. We are all facing loss, disruption and confinement. So, we are having to be creative in the way we do things, and change our habits. Being unable to meet up with family members who don’t live with us, or to socialise with our friends is making us more aware than ever of the importance of other people in our lives. We are created relational and as the poet John Donne said

               No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.

One of the aspects of our lives that has been curtailed, is our inability to meet for prayer, as all places of worship have been closed as part of the way of containing Covid-19. For some, of course, that will have little impact or significance, but for many it will be a massive loss, and a threat to their sense of belonging as well as believing. How can we stay connected spiritually when those who share our beliefs are separated from us?

This morning, at 9.15, a small group of us from our local churches “met” together via WhatsApp to say Morning Prayer. This is one of the daily services (called offices) set out by the Church of England. Some, like me, are dinosaurs when it comes to technology, so perhaps this wasn’t the most effective platform to use for this kind of thing, but we are going to continue to experiment in other ways, until we get it right. (If there is one positive for me about this situation, it is that I will have to improve my skills and confidence in social media!) However, this was a meaningful and actually very moving way of maintaining community across the enforced divide.

It made me consider – suppose we all set aside a time to consciously think of one another, and pray for our world in its current crisis? Suppose people of all faiths and all people of goodwill set aside a time every day to think compassionately for others, using whatever form they felt comfortable with, be that prayer, meditation, or silence. If we all stopped whatever we are doing at 9.15 in the morning, or at 9.15 at night, or both, and thought about those around the globe who are suffering as a result of Covid-19, how powerful would that feeling of connection be?

This virus is no respecter of creed, colour, class, or nationality. It cuts through all that in other circumstances separates us, and unites us in concern for our neighbour, whether they live next door, or in another country, or in another continent. If we could connect in this way and remain connected this would be a wonderful legacy for the whole of humanity; some good coming out of a challenging situation.

I invite those of you who read this to join our virtual gathering in Ventnor, Isle of Wight, at 9.15 tomorrow, and every morning. Let’s stay connected by praying connected.

Rosie Deedes

I will be joiningwith Rosie and many others around the Island in Prayer between 9 and 9.30 every morning (a slightly later time for me that is now possible due to the new stable rota!) and will be offering different forms of morning prayer for your selection should you wish to join in with this lovely idea.

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