By Andrew Humphries
Pastoral carers have stepped up in a big way as the emergence of COVID-19 in Victoria has had a major impact on their ability to provide ongoing support, according to Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) consultant and educator, and long-standing Uniting Church member, Lynne Robertson.
Ongoing restrictions caused by the pandemic have meant an obvious need to adopt a different approach to pastoral care than the one in place for many years.
Thankfully, says Lynne, Uniting Church pastoral carers have more than met the challenge.
And Lynne’s many years in the pastoral care field means she is ideally qualified to continue helping them to navigate a “new path” in pastoral care.
Her own path to the field of pastoral care can be traced back to being a volunteer with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Papua New Guinea, followed by completion of a Bachelor of Theology and Diploma in Counselling.
This led into school chaplaincy roles at MacLeod and Balwyn high schools, simultaneously completing several units of Clinical Pastoral Education and supervisory training.
Lynne established and became the Director of the CPE Centre with the then-named Council of Christian Education in Schools.
She says COVID-19 has meant pastoral carers have had to adapt and find new ways of assisting those people seeking their support.
“Face-to-face ministry, up until COVID-19, has been crucial when offering effective pastoral care,” Lynne explains.
“Pastoral carers note and respond to facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and gestures, as well as what is happening in the room.
“But COVID-19, with its intermittent closure of schools and limitations on or total restriction of visitors to hospitals, aged care facilities, church agencies and sometimes homes, has meant that pastoral carers in all sectors have to find new ways to offer care.”
That doesn’t mean though, says Lynne, that they haven’t risen to the challenge.
“They have been amazingly resilient and creative and have ‘pivoted’ very quickly,” she says.
“Phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom, texts, notes and cards have all been used, with various degrees of effectiveness, as older people sometimes struggle with technology and phone calls may be the main way (to maintain contact with them) while younger people are more used to connecting virtually.”
Lynne says the pandemic has also affected Clinical Pastoral Education in a number of ways and presented many challenges to Uniting CPE – The John Paver Centre, with whom she works closely.
“In terms of Clinical Pastoral Education, both the ministry settings where participants were placed, and the education setting, were affected,” Lynne says.
“Participants could no longer write pastoral reports of a conversation where they were physically present with those they cared for, nor could they meet physically with group participants to engage in the action and reflection learning process that is (part of) CPE.
“In terms of ministry, many alternative methods of care were used.
“(The pandemic has meant that) CPE programs have been offered by Zoom and I am guessing that this will continue to be the case for a while yet.
“Commitment to the group and to group life are very important in CPE and this was certainly challenging when participants have never met each other.”
But with every cloud comes a silver lining and Lynne suggests the forced move to CPE education online has actually opened up more opportunities for many people.
“One advantage of conducting CPE programs online is that they can cater for many more people, those who may live and be offering ministry in country areas or even interstate,” she says.
“Having to travel to Melbourne one day a week is not easy for ministers and pastoral carers living and working hundreds of kilometres away.
“Professional development opportunities for supervisors have also increased, with access to seminars and workshops available both nationally and internationally.
“I have certainly appreciated these opportunities and have completed far more professional development than when I had hours of travel time to get to the venue where the seminar was being held.”
One person who continues to benefit from Lynne’s knowledge, wisdom and vast experience is CPE-The John Paver Centre director Andy Calder.
Their working relationship goes back many years and is built on mutual respect and a passion for pastoral care and the education of those who seek to tread that path.
“As a Uniting Church deacon, Andy has always been interested in ‘ministry on the ground’ out in the community and in the ‘everydayness’ of life,” Lynne says.
“I share that passion and when supervising together in a program in Melbourne’s outer east, I suggested to him that he might consider developing a CPE centre with the Uniting Church, with an emphasis on people ministering in community settings as distinct from hospitals.
“I had had experience in establishing a CPE centre from scratch, and am qualified and experienced in the education of supervisors.
“I am also a committed and active UCA member, and have similar values to Andy, plus we share deep friendship.”
Lynne is justifiably proud of what Uniting CPE – The John Paver Centre, established in 2010, brings to Clinical Pastoral Education.
“The Centre is quite distinctive in several ways, firstly (in the fact that) its focus is on ministry in a variety of community settings, although several participants have also had placements in hospitals,” Lynne says.
“Secondly it has a focus on theological reflection using a model which ‘draws the circle wider’ than simply the individual one-on-one encounter, and explores how the influence of pastoral care might impact in the social, political and cultural context of the encounter.
“Thirdly Dr Jan Morgan stimulated an interest in eco-ministry and the extension of pastoral care to caring for and listening to the earth and creation itself.
“Each of these aspects provides a sharp learning focus and is energising for both supervisor and participant.
“Although the centre does not run as many programs as some others, I believe within the Uniting Church and beyond it has had, and will continue to have, a huge influence on the provision of quality pastoral care in the community.”
For information about the 2022 CPE program, from April 7 to August 5, email Centre Director Andy Calder or call 03 93408844. Applications close on December 3.