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Pastoral Ministry II: On Collective Pastoral Care: Exploring the New Paradigm.

Updated: Jan 11


When I think of Collective Pastoral Care what comes to mind is a team of Christian ministers, either going out into the streets or working at an institution, like a hospital or a prison, seeing to the Spiritual and Bodily needs of the people they encounter on a daily basis. The purpose of this paper is to explore the Paradigm that is known as Collective Pastoral Care and how it may be applied in a practical way.


What is Collective Pastoral Care?

Collective Pastoral Care can best be understood if one breaks down the words into separate components and then bring them back together again.. By doing this, perhaps a paradigm will shine through a little clearer.



To quote Hillary Rodam Clinton (1947 - ), "It takes a village to raise a child." According to some people, the former first lady is correct. In this day and age, when the odds of a child living in the once traditional two parent household is low, it becomes clear that others must bear the responsibility for childcare. However, people soon realize that they can not do it alone. This is the case in pastoral care. Individually, we can take care of a person here or there, but we are limited to our own abilities.


Nevertheless, if we work together in tending to the needs of the marginalized, we can get more done. We begin to open up to tackling the problems of caregiving. By being in a Collective, Pastoral Care Practitioners become energized with a desire to improve the present system of welfare. When we act collectively, we are looking at the larger picture. In essence, the blinders are removed and the scope of the problems, that face people in crisis, are realized. Pastoral care is most effective when it is done by many people immersed in the lifeblood of the community, in the parish, in the home and on the street.



In a perfect world, some would argue that it would be the entire village that would take care of all the people. When we peer into the lives of those in need, we begin to enter into the pastoral side of Christian ministry. To be pastoral means to be involved with people in their daily lives.


Dr. Christopher Levan's book,  The Word On The Street, An Invitation To Community Ministry aptly describes what the real meaning of pastoral care is all about. The Barry Morris' story about Mark and Rose illustrate the deep personal involvement that is required by those who minister on the mean streets. Pastoral workers are able to find out about the background of the people individually, as with Mark and Rose did, and collectively help people, along with the multitude of other social service communities that reside within the urban setting.


For me, pastoral means understanding the needs of the people and trying to guide the person into a positive direction. A direction that takes the person, off drugs, off welfare, off prostitution or off of whatever is haunting them and their loved ones. Without having that personal touch with individuals, pastoral care would lose its very heart and soul and would become no better then a bureaucratic secular social service.



When I think of caring for someone, what comes to mind is seeing to it, that what we do, is in some way improving the quality of life of the person in need. I agree with Dr. Levan's article, Collective Pastoral Care, that their is too much emphasis on short term fixing, without the long term vision at hand .


For me, Care suggests a process of rectifying problems, not just that day, but with an eye on the future. Our city's food kitchen Loaves and Fishes is a Christian response to the daily needs of the people. However, we could look at how we can influence a secular society, bent on so-called fiscal responsibility, to heal the diseases of poverty and abuse.


With an eye on the future, a careworker can have a better understanding of what the people need, not only today, but tomorrow as well. I believe that a Band-Aid approach to the marginalized is not a solution to the problem of poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and crime, to name a few.


Collective Pastoral Care

Collective Pastoral Care is comprised of ministers who accept the commandment of Jesus, to love all our neighbours. This is best done by being involved in the everyday lives of people. We learn about their background and try to understand their situation without prejudice. Collective Pastoral Care guides people into a positive direction away from whatever debilitates them in their daily life.


Such care is not a Band-Aid approach, but a conscious effort to part of a larger body. It does take a village to raise up the people and collective pastoral care is a way of bringing hope to the seemingly helpless as well as providing help for the seemingly hopeless. It is the collective pastoral caregiver whose ministry is to provide the very hope that is needed by the sick, poor and marginalized.


Disadvantages of Collective Pastoral Care

Once again, I would refer to Dr. Christopher Levan's article and reiterate his described references in the weaknesses of Collective Pastoral Care. First, it tends to focus on the need for individual attention. Though very important, it is too narrow as an approach to eliminating the problems that the people experience. Once again, it's a Band-Aid for an open sore. This is a real disadvantage because caregivers will spend a life-time moving from one individual crisis to another without effecting change on any real scale.


Here in Cape Breton, we experience one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We have an actual unemployment rate well above the official numbers and people collecting Unemployment Insurance from the Federal government have little chance of finding a job. 

After the unemployment insurance runs out in about nine months, a decision has to be made. Do I stay and be unemployment? Do I go on welfare? Do I go away and look for work, probably for the rest of my life only to return home as a tourist. I think the brave ones are the ones who stay because they accept the reality that prosperity does not spell out C-A-P-E B-R-E-T-O-N.

In addition to this problem, some governments in Canada are taking away needed programs that could assist people in their worst moments, either for budget cutting reasons or systemic abuse. In essence, they tell those in need of assistance that they should look to their families for assistance.

I'm not sure about the rest of Canada, but where I come from, a lot of parents and grand-parents barely get by themselves and those who have some financial security are not ready for an extended family. The point that I'm trying to make is that if you don't try to solve the problem of unemployment, you end up with the problem of welfare, welfare cheating, stealing, drugs prostitution and violence.


In Cape Breton , we are coming to the point when grand parent, parent and son and daughter can all be without employment. Intergenerational unemployment is the seed of despair that will create future problems for our society.


Advantages of Collective Pastoral Care for Christian Ministry

The Social Safety Net, when used properly, as a temporary form of relief for people, can work. But, if the problems that brought the person into the net persists, then it is no surprise that the person is trapped in the net and will remain there for an indefinite period of time. The governments of Canada will have to see that the Social Safety Net is a positive approach to the problem of welfare and the solution to any financial crisis is not to tear off the band aid, but to go after the problem that is behind the abrasions that cause social poverty and marginalization and any abuses from it.


Christian Ministry can be a instrument in the development of human potential, if we look beyond, yet not ignoring, the individual needs of people and in so doing, attempt to seek positive social change. We can move from individual Pastoral Care, which can become the cause of interdependence between the afflicted and the caregiving system, towards collective pastoral care, which can be a catalyst for independence.


This is surly not a Band-Aid approach, but a progressively enlightened way of loving our neighbour and bettering the human condition. Individual needs will always be of importance, but social action can be the best way to help as many people as possible in an effort to bring about positive change. Collective Pastoral Care is central to this goal because it lies in the front lines of the battle between hope and despair. Christian ministry, through Collective Pastoral Care has the potential to help bring out the dignity of every person by showing them that their concerns are important and that there is more to their lives than a handout.


Applying Collective Pastoral Care

We have been blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit. For me, this is not some ethereal or metaphysical concept, but a real and tangible asset that has been given to us by God. Once we have faith in our own abilities to help others then Collective Pastoral Care begins to work well for the panhandlers that are on the streets of most urban areas. Such care is an outward sign of genuine concern for the needs of the marginalized in the form of action.


Street People like Steve ( from a previous Post) would notice the concerted effort made by many people to give him, at least, an opportunity to have enough to live on. If the beggars and panhandlers choose to beg, then, at least, they know there is another place to go. In the case of some people, and I think Steve would apply here, a life long habit, which his life may have become, might have him at times, turning away from Pastoral Care.


But one can pray that Collective Pastoral Care could become a ray of hope for people who think that no one really cares about them or their particular situation. Pastoral Careworkers, sometimes quietly, sometimes vocally, continue providing what they can and most importantly are giving of themselves. Here in Cape Breton, there are organizations such as the St. Vincent De Paul Society, Loaves and Fishes, the Salvation Army and others, who provide care for the marginalized. Unfortunately there appears to be an increasing need for such organizations that support people in need, people like Steve. 


Originally entitled On Collective Pastoral Care: Exploring The New Paradigm presented to Dr, Christopher Levan as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement

531 E - Social Ministry - St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta

Published on February 10th, 1997 {Revised on November 29th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023


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