The Leader Formation webinar series continued on April 27 with a 90-minute conversation about ways ruling elders and deacons — in addition to other church members — can provide care ministry in its many forms.
Leader Formation organizer and Ruling Elder Martha Miller hosted the event, with featured guests the Revs. Rachel and Matt Rhodes. Five hundred people registered for the webinar, the maximum possible for the Zoom session.
Rachel serves as senior pastor of Morrisville Presbyterian Church outside Philadelphia, and Matt has taught chaplains in Princeton as a Clinical Pastoral Educator with Penn Medicine Princeton Health. They presented from their home in New Jersey on care ministry inside and outside congregations, focusing on ways ruling elders and deacons can find inspiration for care ministry in their ordination questions. They also shared practical advice for talking with those suffering from illness or injury as well as those grieving the loss of a loved one.
After Miller’s greeting and introduction, Rachel talked about common myths and truths of care ministry, saying it is important to debunk myths because they can excuse people from this ministry, which she described as “so much more than looking after people in crisis.” The myths and truths were displayed on accompanying slides.
For Presbyterians, whom Rachel called “a people built for connection,” caring includes welcoming church visitors and reaching out to individuals from different generations in ways that work for them, including personal invitations to meet. She encouraged deacons, ruling elders and others involved in care ministry to remember how they were first made to feel welcome in their congregation by the attention of one person.
After encouraging congregations to carry out a care ministry SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), Rachel brought in Matt to talk about providing care to individuals who are living through health scares or grieving. He shared a list of 27 points that were also posted to the Leader Formation webinar page along with Rachel’s slides.
Matt elaborated on each point, including how crisis times are when hearts are broken and opened up; how care ministry is about lessening a person’s isolation, not ending suffering; that care ministry does not mean answering questions about why a person is experiencing suffering or grieving (“Why is God doing this to me?” is often best answered with a simple “I don’t know”); and that you can help someone grieve by recognizing the importance and even hopefulness of grieving.
He discussed his experiences as a chaplain during the worst months of the Covid pandemic, when fear became an overwhelming presence in many people’s lives, especially at elder care facilities. Acknowledging fear, regardless of its cause, is another way to lessen a person’s feeling of isolation.
Rachel and Matt fielded questions during an end-of-webinar Q&A about topics such as providing pastoral care to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, differences between confidentiality and privacy, avoiding “that happened to me too” responses, giving sufficient time to grieving and talking with people recently diagnosed with cancer.
At the end of the webinar, Miller thanked the guests, her Mid Council Ministry colleagues and Global Language Resources translators for their help hosting the event. She encouraged attendees to share the recording with others interested in care ministry.
Participant appreciation filled the chat (“Such a great webinar!” “Excellent. Have learn[ed] a whole lot.” “What a blessing! Thank you, Rachel, Matt, and Martha.” “I have learned so much. Thank you for such a worthwhile webinar!”)
Three days later, Miller received a positive review close to her home in Michigan. Timothy Fitzgerald, a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, spoke during Sunday worship about attending the Leadership Formation webinar and being surprised not only to find the host was a member of his congregation, but that he had so much to learn about the many forms pastoral care can take. One of his big take-aways was that anyone can find a use for their particular talents in the service of caring for others.
“I want to give a big thank you to Martha Miller for putting this webinar together for all of the Presbyterian elders and deacons across the country,” Fitzgerald said. “This was one of those ‘change my thinking change my life’ experiences.”
Watch “Reclaiming Our Calling: Deacons & Ruling Elders and the Care of Souls” and other Leader Formation webinars at the Leader Formation webinars webpage.