I have now taught multiple iterations of courses in pastoral care. There are two recurring responses that I would really like to investigate, holding open the possibility that the results could impact my teaching of pastoral care.
At the start of each course I clarify with students that pastoral care is a very varied matter and that we can never cover ‘everything’ in college in terms of specific skills. Rather, it seems best to try to develop an understanding of interpersonal dynamics underpinning ge-neric theological skills that can flexibly (and reflexively) inform and underpin a variety of pastoral situations. I root these ideas in real experiences drawn often from the class members.
My question arises from the frequency with which students say they need ‘more’ sessions (by which they mean covering extra specific pastoral topics); and also from the uncomfortable reactions that are not infrequently articulated in the face of discussions of mortality, bereavement, conflict etc – however carefully these subjects are offered, and however much students know that these issues will be part of their later ministries. While I believe formation demands great humility in the presence of human pastoral need, there is also a possibly disabling lack of confidence about certain matters of pastoralia among some students.
I want to explore the way in which (1) a prior personal experience of suffering might change the perception of these ‘scary’ topics; and (2) how real ministry experience impacts student perceptions of the ‘scary topics’ once they leave the safe space of college.