The work of pastoral/spiritual care is a somewhat undefinable term. Here is one attempt to describe the work we chaplains do. I think it presents a fairly accurate portrayal of the broadness of our work.
I think defining pastoral care is tough. My simple go-to is “providing emotional and spiritual support” but that doesn’t begin to describe what this actually looks like.
Most definitions cannot do justice to pastoral care on a day-to-day basis and how chaplains fill their time.
So here’s my working definition, a list that is by no means exhaustive, but a start at describing what pastoral care can be.
Pastoral care is holding a woman while she talks on her cell phone to her husband’s doctor and learns they have exhausted all medical resources.
Pastoral care is listening to a nurse vent when she’s had a long day.
Pastoral care is googling names and addresses to find contacts for trauma patients.
Pastoral care is listening to a patient tell stories about the best parts of their life.
Pastoral care is stroking the forehead of a woman who is dying and whose family is stuck in traffic.
Pastoral care is inviting someone to cry in your arms.
Pastoral care is discussing the Phillies bullpen in August in South Philly.
Pastoral care is praying for someone when they can’t pray themselves.
Pastoral care is playing with a two year old while his parents say goodbye to their parents.
Pastoral care is doing word puzzles with patients to make the waiting more tolerable.
Pastoral care is advocating for patients’ unmet medical needs.
Pastoral care is hearing confessions.
Pastoral care is listening while families struggle with medical decisions.
Pastoral care is bearing witness to people’s lives.
Pastoral care is reminding people that they are loved.
Pastoral care is journeying alongside all who come through the doors of the hospital.