I’ve successfully completed my first class at Seattle University! Huzzah! Take that all you people who… well… actually were quite supportive of this crazy idea. The class was STMM 5530: Pastoral Care Skills, which is usually ten weeks long but because it was a summer session, was compressed into five days. Ten women and one man (me!), from six different faith backgrounds and three different degree tracks, came together to help each other learn how to listen. It felt more like a retreat than a grad school class.
Learning how to listen may sound easy, but we tread into some deep emotional, spiritual and psychological waters. There were five required texts for the course and all needed to be read before the first day of class. Armed with theory, in class we discussed how family history, genetics, society, ethnicity, culture and religion all came together to fashion our behavior, specifically how we react in anger, fear, guilt and depression. In order to bring healing, we needed to understand brokenness; specifically, our own.
We formed triads, and twice a day each of us had a turn at being an observer, listener and speaker. All sessions were video recorded. We were to review our listening sessions and critique our own behavior: How am I sitting? What kinds of questions am I asking? Am I looking at the speaker? How are our chairs positioned? What does my voice sound like? How am I using my facial expressions? We also had constructive feedback from peers and instructors.
None of the class was role play. As the speaker, we needed to respond from the heart. Some topics of discussion were: “Who are you and why are you here?” “What are your limitations and strengths?” “What aspects of your family were most difficult?” “What excuses do you use to avoid self-care?” “Where does your anger come from?” “How do you react to conflict, and why?” “How do issues of power and vulnerability affect your life?” It may seem crazy to be able to honestly speak this kind of personal truth to complete strangers. Thankfully, I had two amazing women in my triad who made self-disclosure incredibly easy.
The goal of all this is to begin fashioning a sense of pastoral presence; a way of being fully attentive to a care-seeker in a way that affirms their worth and dignity as a human being and provides a safe environment from which to begin healing. I learned this requires an enormous amount of self-examination and self-knowledge. It demands that I be the servant-leader. I also learned there is a scary amount of power that comes with ministry. I’m thankful that I’ve chosen a school which teaches the responsibility, compassion and humility necessary to use that power in a way that respects and honors each individual person I meet.
I can’t wait for the fall semester.