The pastor and the Eucharist

Clebsch and Jaekle defined pastoral care in the 1960s:

The ministry of the cure of souls, or pastoral care, consists of helping acts, done by representative Christian persons, directed toward the healing, guiding, sustaining, and reconciling of troubled persons whose troubles arise in the context of ultimate meanings and concerns.1

Post-modern responses to this definition are aware that language of the 'soul' can propagate a false dichotomy between body and soul. 'Soul-care' requires a biblical underpinning. Significantly, the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psyche do not connote the same sense of disembodied immaterial spirit as the English word 'soul'. With kidneys that rejoice (Proverbs 23:16) and the soul that thirsts and hungers for the Lord (Ps 42:2 and 84:2a), the Scriptures guard against dualism. Our worship is experienced bodily through movement, touch (particularly in sharing 'the peace') and eating (the consecrated elements). Pastoral care should attend to people 'wholeistically' because we are 'psycho-spiritual-somatic beings.'2

Pastoral Care
The word 'pastoral' can be too narrowly associated with the clerical paradigm. We are 'members of one living body, exercising toward one another a spiritual or priestly office.'3

We are always encountering the world's diverse ideologies and faith systems. The Eucharist can be a spectacle, unfamiliar to people, who might gaze wonderingly upon the intimacies being shared as it is celebrated. In this way too it draws people in, I like to think.

During home Holy Communions, there are expectations as to what this encounter should look like. I also hope for 'moments of genuine human connection.'5 I am free to be myself, without the need for any expert knowledge. It is quite simple what we do there, unbounded by liturgy and particular expressions of sitting and standing as one often finds in a church service. Buber describes how being present with someone is an education of character, not requiring expertise or special position but an ability to support the 'becoming' or 'unfolding' of the other;6 the 'guiding' described by Clebsch and Jaekle.

Christian faith stories are less stable than they are in the church congregation because testimonies are not corroborated by the shared life of the particularised Christian congregation. Hear me when I say, they are no less valid. These are people exploring 'ultimate meanings and concerns'7 from within their own spiritual framework, often in the face of illness and their own mortality.

What is often encountered is people's expressions of sin and regret, although they rarely use sin to describe their experiences of brokenness. Each human encounter can be a very mutual and broken affair. As I listen and speak into people's expressions of sinfulness, I reflect on both my own brokenness and mortality in response.9 For Lake, historically 'soul care' deals with suffering and 'spiritual care' deals with sin and 'pastoral care is defective unless it can deal thoroughly both with these evils we have suffered as well as with the sins we have committed.'10

The Eucharist and connection
When engaging in a specific liturgical act of the people of God, the Eucharist, at home visits, I sense the ritual's heightened profundity. Off-setting my own uncertainty about the 'sustaining, healing, guiding and reconciling'12 efficacy of my interactions with people, where from time to time, I am conscious of saying the wrong thing, being uncertain or either listening or talking too much, here is this ritual act which binds us together as equals in a way that my visit alone does not quite do. A simple visit without the Eucharist leaves me conscious that despite Buber's insistence on being 'fully present,' I am in role, dressed as I am as an ordained person. Buber describes how there are two distinct modes of existence, one of which 'poceeds from what one really is, the other from what one wishes to seem'.13 I think that sometimes I lapse into conversation, on a visit, governed by what I expect the person expects from me. I experience moments of 'I/Thou' dialectic but I was am often fit to the unfit, mobile to the immobile and free to the bodily limited. During the Eucharist, however, we both sit to receive the bread and wine, we all choose to be there and both our souls are unfit and in need of repair. My physical fitness seems less of a marked difference.

How much pastoral care becomes the agenda for the Eucharist 
Some liturgical scholars suggest that Worship (and here I mean our shared praise) should be governed by what will best engender genuine connection, if it is to have a pastoral efficacy. As Bradbury explains, 'God's love has to be translated...liturgy has to start with people's experiences and feelings as they are.' 14 Our Worship, governed particularly by the Word, seeks to do this, as on home visits the message is shaped and related so that it addresses that person's situation more particularly. It is also, however, inappropriate for Worship and the Word to be manipulated to these ends. Liturgy can 'never be focussed solely around the pastoral needs of people,'15 and yet the Eucharist, 'as a context for pastoral care...16 is capable of articulating those theological and ethical dimensions which otherwise might be difficult to express.'17

How the Eucharist functions as a key context for Pastoral Care
Its stability

The Eucharist is an event outside time, or at least addressing such a multitude of times that there is a sense of being caught up in the eternal, so that the enormity of whatever confronts us in the present somehow diminishes. ‘Do this in remembrance’ means that the Eucharist has a retrospective dimension. In focussing also on the eschaton, it has an anticpatory dimension, and in calling us to share in the transformation of God's Kingdom, it addresses the present. Past, future and present are connected. Carl Jung suggests, '(a) that worship enables us to get in touch with the depths of human experience; and (b) that it protects us from being overwhelmed by those depths by containing us within a patterned ritual.'18 As the Eucharist expresses 'those theological and ethical dimensions which might be otherwise difficult to express'19, it is, in essense, disclosing 'what it means to be human at a rock-bottom level.'20In other words, it is disclosing 'theology' (who we are and who God is, in whose image we are made) and 'ethics' (our shared life). Being human is complex and ever-changing. Erik Erikson in the 1950s and many others since, suggest that humans go through various sequential stages in their growth to maturity and fullness.21

This necessitates a mindful response to our desire to proclaim everything 'afresh'.22 Cottrell describes how, 'An increasing number of churches are growing suspicious of the eucharist [because] they think it is difficult,23 but Rappaport reminds us, that adaptive changes should always preserve some more integral part of the whole system unchanged because ‘liturgical orders...establish and constitute order, rather than chaos or disorder. 24 If the unchanging core ingredients of this ritual remain unchanged, it fosters a secure place where 'participants transmit information concerning their own current physical, psychic or social states to themselves and to other participants '25 There is something about that visit that shapes the week, centres the day and marks the passage of time. Diary filling for the next appointment is almost a part of the shape of the ordinary liturgy that each visit is shaped by. We create a liturgy when we least anticipate we are doing so.

The Eucharist generates Communitas through liminality 
As Jung states human beings need more than just stability to flourish. At any given stage of the life cycle, it is of comfort to know that one is not alone. 'In the beginning' Buber writes in I and Thou 'is relation'.26 From within the stability of the liturgical constants, our very untidy 'physical, psychic or social states'27 can be recreated and experienced as we journey through Christ's humiliation, suffering and sacrifice and into new life, rebirth and future promise. This all helps to counteract Campbell's concern that: 'In a world of abstract categories the organized world of emotional and bodily reactions has no place, yet this is the world in which most people encounter their greatest problems'.28

He laments that it is 'small wonder that what Churches say seems largely irrelevant to the majority of people in modern times.'29 I am more hopeful than Campbell. Where words fail to reach people within a post-modern context,30 symbol and shared action can. We need to relate to one another and give and receive love. 'It is the Christian claim that each human being can only be completed beyond her or himself...through the neighbour and through God.'31 Worship is a corporate activity, there is a corporate confession and the creed expresses shared beliefs. A meal is shared. Identity is solidified by seeing our own image reflected in that person next to us as we enter into fellowship through bread and wine. Identity is also rooted in the Creator Trinity who made us and as Christ's 'precense is extolled, and his final coming implored...fellowship (communio) with the Lord is communicated.32 Identity is grasped vertically and horizontally and happens through the sharing of a meta-narrative, which is not only recounted but participated in.

There is something very active about the Eucharist. We eat! If the eucharistic anamnesis is a spectacle or mysterious phenomenon for those who look on (no bad thing perhaps, if it provokes questions and longings), for those who share in it, there is something profoundly healing. Identity changes as time passes and so our feelings about our value ichange. Turner describes that when people becomes liminal together, such as when they are captivated by a sacred story event, they enter a state he calls Communitas.33 Communitas is a collective state of liminality, in which all participants exist in a state of equality and oneness, since the normal roles and status of their structured world do not apply. The liminal point is the transformation of a life in Christ, on offer, regardless of social status, who experience together the Eucharistic symbols. People become caught up in a state of being neither here nor there, it is betwixt and between their own and the world of the story. It is a place where brokenness and restoration is played out so that our own stories are given meaning by being taken up into the very actions of Christ.

The transformation of the ordinary 
If ordinary bread and wine are transformed then there is reason to hope that ordinary people and their stories will be transformed too. The bread shared at the Eucharist begins as the ordinary food of every-day life. Bread is a basic food-stuff within many cultures, eaten by people of diverse status and age, often forming part of the meals we share. These simple ingredients which satisfy bodily need, come to have 'inexhaustible meaning [as they are] 'doing and giving what they embody.’34 They satisfy the 'soul that thirsts and hungers for the Lord'. In the Eucharist, this everyday ordinary substance creates Communitas and communion with God.

I am learning that the shape and promise of the Eucharist can be my starting point for the care God can give. If those of us whose identities are rooted in Christ cease to proclaim the efficacy of his work, then we are left to rely on secular models of therapy. While secular models have value, if they are not grounded in what we do as we worship, pastoral care can become what Campbell calls a perversion of Christian ministry. Campbell explains:

relationship does not depend primarily upon the acquisition of knowledge or the development of skill. Rather it depends upon the caring attitude towards others which comes from our own experience of pain, fear and loss and our release from their deadening grip. 35

Release from that 'deadening grip' is a promise of the Eucharist and not a promise professionals can deliver.

It is for this reason that the framework with which I seek to enter into pastoral care is that which I understand from the Eucharist liturgy. 'Healing' comes through the sharing of story, in the Eucharistic anemnesis and through listening to one another. 'Guiding' is towards a belief in the transformation of the ordinary bread, wine and our lives. The 'sustaining' is of a wholeness through a reclaiming of the sanctity of our lives as we see each other through God's eyes. 'Reconciliation' is of community, which can begin with journeying together actively into a liminality, played out by touch, as we have with the sharing of the peace and those eucharistic meals, which transform the ordinary and corporate response, which points to shared human experience.

Ultimately, the Eucharist is a key context for pastoral care both for how it addresses our human condition by its shape and symbols and for how it calls out from of us a response to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the world. C.S. Lewis, describes how 'next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.' 36 It is by journeying through the Eucharist that we might most closely come to appreciate how much we are loved. As a consequence, we might passionately 'Go in peace to love and serve the Lord' by loving that very neighbour presented to our senses.

1Clebsch & Jaekle, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective, 4.

2Benner, "Nurturing Spiritual Growth"

3John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls, 190.

4Doherty, “Morality and spirituality in therapy”, in F. M. Walsh (Ed.), Spiritual resources in family therapy, pp. 179-192.

5Hall, “Psychoanalysis, Attachment, and Spirituality”

6Buber, I and Thou, 197

7Clebsch & Jaekle, op. cit

8Benner, “Nurturing Spiritual Growth”

9Particularly guilt for having fallen ill and regret about unhappy relationships. The guilt about falling ill is comically brought alive by Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed , 66: 'This sense of urgency seems best expressed in the story of the old man who was dying. As he lay there with his eyes closed, his wife whispered to him, naming every member of the family who was there to wish him shalom. "And who," he suddenly asked, sitting up abruptly, "who is minding the store?"'

10Lake, Clinical Theology, 21

11Benner, “Nurturing Spiritual Growth”

12Clebsch & Jaekle, op. sit

13Buber, I and Thou, 76

14Woodward, The Blackwell reader in pastoral and practical theology, 176

15Green, Only Connect, 14

16This quote helpfully alludes back to the title of this essay

17Green, Only Connect, 14

18Green, Only Connect, 125


20Ibid, 13

21See Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed

22Declaration of Assent, the Ordinal

23Ward P, Mass Culture, 57

24Rappaport, Ritual and religion,169

25Ibid, 52

26Buber, I and Thou, 18

27Rappaport, op.cit

28Campbell, Rediscovering Pastoral Care, 37


30Hopes to explore problems over religious language and accessibility did not have room here.

31Green, Only Connect, 10

32 Kasper, Theology and Church, 183.

33Turner, Ritual Process, 96.

34Bradshaw, Dictionary of Liturgy And Worship, 438-40.

35 Campbell, Rediscovering Pastoral Care ,37

36Lewis, The Weight of glory, 180


Savi Hensman said...


Rach said...

Thank you Savi, for dropping by.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions