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Pastoral care at a distance

This list was started to support a webinar presentation on providing pastoral care during a time of quarantine. It will be updated regularly. 

My premises:

  • God is in the room before I am (and when I am not). I’m joining God’s work. 
  • Our notions of “what counts” are often inaccurate. E.g. spiritual care has to come from a pastor.
  • Some of what we believe is important reflects our own needs more than the needs of people. E.g. hugging, showing up in the crisis. 
  • Human beings are built to need other human beings. But they aren’t necessarily built to need me. 
  • This challenge is new, but challenges aren’t new. 
  • Our calling is pastoral care, not political care or medical care. 
  • All will be well, but people do die. 

So what do we do to provide spiritual support? 

The secret of using technology –

  • Something is usually better than nothing
  • the richer the information the better – face-to-face video is richer than a text. 
  • the more interactive the better – which means shut up. 
  • the more responsive the better – a text at the moment of need is better than a face-to-face video three weeks later. 

General pastoral care

This is what Eugene Peterson calls “the ministry of small talk”. Maintaining regular connection with and between people.

Regular counts. Listening counts. Conversation counts. 

During this season, listen for fears before discounting them. “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.” 

“Listening is easy. When you want to walk away, you keep sitting there.” Young Sheldon

Anyone from the congregation can provide this kind of care. Offer people Caring for the well-being of seniors – a tip sheet from the HDI

Coping with anxiety in the age of COVID (Jamie Aten)

Choosing to work around the edges – Karl Vaters

Illness when you can’t walk in. 

Listening counts. Remembering and following up counts. Praying counts. Realism counts. On the phone, you can listen. With email and texts, you can follow up. In any medium, you can talk with God and include the person in the conversation. 

Don’t emphasis how much you can’t do. “I’m so sorry that I can’t give you a hug, this crazy virus, blah blah blah.” 

Instead, spend the words on understanding and conversation with God. “I bet that’s hard. Let’s ask God to meet with you.” 

Chaplains can’t go in the room, either. This CT article gives an overview of challenges and alternatives. 

Care at end of life

What you should know before you need a ventilator.

Now doctors are the ones saying goodbye


The reality is that people are dying without a last chance for family to see them face to face and hand to hand. That is hard. So our challenge is listen to the pain they are expressing and respond to that fear with compassion. 

“I hope he didn’t die alone.” 
“I wanted to tell him one last time.”
“I wanted to thank her (apologize to her.” 

Listen. Acknowledge. Don’t offer cliches. Wait. 

Be proactive about going in ways you can: have someone drop off a box of tissues. Put a sign in their window. 

See the post “Funerals These Days” for a list of resources. 


Here’s a link to all the resources from the HDI COVID-19 Conference

How To Talk With Sick, Dying, and Grieving People: When There are No Magic Words to Say Patrick Riecke.

Here’s a review of the following books which deal with end-of-life decisions from a Christian worldview. 
The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come. Rob Moll. 
Departing in Peace: Biblical Decisionmaking at the End of Life. Bill Davis. 
Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care. Kathryn Butler.

I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know. W. Lee Warren. And a review of this book. 


Filed under: Practical - consolation, practical-ER visits

About the Author

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Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

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