If experience is the best teacher, Rev Ros McDonald has certainly learnt how to cope with change. As the school chaplain at Acacia College, Ms McDonald found herself counselling and supporting the school community through uncertainty and turmoil at a time when she, personally, was going through those same emotions. It is these skills she will bring to her new role as pastoral response person for the Major Strategic Review (MSR).
“I went through losing my placement, losing my faith community and having to support that community at the same time. And knowing the church, that I had promised to serve, cut me off at the knees when they had been the ones to place me there. That adds another dimension to just losing your job.”
As the MSR team has travelled around Victoria and Tasmania, there are some who are concerned at the proposed changes taking place within the church. Ms McDonald’s role will develop as the needs of the church community become apparent.
“There are needs on all fronts. The role is to support people in the congregations as well as the MSR team and people on Standing Committee. People who have the difficult job of having to make these decisions.
“I am both proactive and reactive. Some people I might contact or others I wait for them to contact me.
“I am in close contact with members of the MSR team and alert when I am in key meetings. Being a supportive presence is a way of introducing myself to people, and forming connections.”
Reflecting back on those difficult days after the Acacia decision, Ms McDonald said it was important to recognise the needs of the individual in the early stages of change.
“The first step in any kind of pastoral care is to validate the emotions a person is feeling. That won’t resonate with everyone, as some work on a feeling level and others on a thinking level. It’s being able to listen and try to really understand as best I can what that particular person is feeling or thinking.
“The normal emotions people often feel with change would be fear, anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, shock, uncertainty, being overwhelmed and not able to make decisions properly. Of course not everyone will feel all of this and not to the same extent.”
While not detracting from the negative impact Acacia had on the school community, Ms McDonald said the experience actually offered her the opportunity to expand her skills and enabled her to become a better minister.
“As chaplain at Acacia, what I really longed for was to have more depth in my counselling skills. Ironically enough, when I lost the chaplaincy position I had the time to do the course to study the counselling that I needed in the chaplaincy position.”
It is these skills and experience Ms McDonald hopes will help others in the months ahead. One of the most important lessons learned from Acacia is that people need a sense of perspective on just how bad a problem really is. She said that while closing a school was viewed as difficult for those most affected, when compared to countries where children don’t get the chance to go to school, in reality it was not an actual ‘disaster’.
“In Australia there are other jobs for teachers, there are other schools available for students. While it feels really bad it’s not the end of the world.
“Pastoral care is more than just listening and walking with people and having compassion. My great desire is to lead people on or to help people take a step, not to just join them where they are. That’s vitally important.”
“My underlying theme is ‘I survived Acacia’.”
Ms McDonald describes herself as the ‘wounded healer’ and hopes people will see her not only as a resource, but proof that change can be good as well as bad.
For more information contact Ros McDonald at: Roslyn.McDonald@victas.uca.org.au