Ministry of care is a unique calling and privilege, yet very often we can be unsure how to approach this compassionate care. With pastoral experience at a remote hospital and Bible college in Tanzania and as an Anglican chaplain in one of Sydney’s top paediatric hospitals, Kate Bradford knows how important it is to work out of a steady and well-informed soul care practice. The following is adapted from a talk she gave at a Presbyterian church in Melbourne.
While we often think of pastoral care as congregational help from vocational ministers, soul care is closer to its true meaning. And it’s something every follower of Jesus can offer, regardless of calling. It’s helpful, first, to understand that the innermost part of our being — our soul — is what responds to God in love, peace, worship or rejoicing as well as to indifference, bitterness, sorrow or rebellion.
We offer soul care out of our own in-Christ-ness as we comfort and awaken the need for Christ in another. Soul care weaves godly wisdom between the lengthwise warp of God’s Word and the crosswise weft of the world. It is a ministry that faces toward the community of believers within the church but also toward the open space of the public square.
In other words, soul care encourages another person to seek the living water of our Lord through deeper roots. For those who don’t yet know Christ, we want to reflect and elucidate the deeper biblical reality around us. Centred on Jesus, this reality truthfully reflects the beauty of creation, the brokenness of our world, the fallenness of our humanity, and our need for restoration.
What, then, could a pattern of soul care look like? I believe four simple words can best paint this picture:
Soul care is an intentional Christian practice of attending: attending to God, attending to ourselves and attending to another person’s soul. We attend to the orientation of our own soul by consciously remembering Christ in us and inhabiting our lives. We quiet our own soul’s distractions, and in doing
so make room for a guest.
Active listening is a whole-body experience, accessing all our senses. We listen not just with our ears but with our eyes catching movement and facial expressions. As we do, we might register pulse or wellness. Our skin prickles, our eyes water. Our body sympathises as we inhabit another’s story. We hear words and catch their tone and process their weight.
When we hear and feel the weight of another’s soul, of how families and faith, nurture and nature, security or tragedy, culture or creed can complicate each story, we begin to form a response. We wonder, where does this soul’s story fit between the hope of Scripture and the broken patterns of our world? Soul care responds thoughtfully and applies godly wisdom to specific pastoral encounters.
We pray without ceasing, for Christ’s wisdom, for insight, for patience and strength to resist simple resolutions. We pray to speak truths in a timely manner, to work with the real not the ideal. We pray to stay present in the encounter. We offer prayer for the other, asking what it is they desire from God. As we do, we pray that the soul care of the situation multiplies for other such moments.
A 2018 Senior Research Fellow at Anglican Deaconess Ministries and current chaplain to theological students, Kate also teaches pastoral care at Mary Andrews College and Moore College. Her postgraduate research includes mid-twentieth century practices of pastoral theology. Connect with Kate on her blog Pastoral Thinking.