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Preparing Lay Ministers for Pastoral Care: Community of Hope International in the Diocese of New York


Published in the issue.

Living church during the current pandemic has created the need for an increased focus on pastoral care. In this time of loss and anxiety, we are challenged by greater numbers of those who grieve loss, suffer illness, feel isolated, experience anxiety, or miss the weekly support of in-person presence at church.  Now, more than ever, we need to expand our capacity to offer pastoral care and extend our outreach through the training of lay ministers.

In response to the last of these needs, the diocese’s Office of Congregational Development and Vitality is pleased to announce the creation of a diocesan pastoral care training center through membership on a diocesan level in Community of Hope International (COHI – https://cohinternational.org) and the expansion of additional training centers in parishes throughout the diocese.

Community of Hope International centers serve as “Schools for God’s Service,” preparing participants in pastoral care ministry, and equipping “graduates” with the skills and understanding to engage confidently in ministries through their parishes.

Within our diocese, there are parish centers already established at Christ Church, Bronxville and St. Michael’s Church, Manhattan; there are also newly-established centers at Holyrood/Santa Cruz Church in Manhattan and at St. James the Less in Scarsdale. Now, with the creation of the newest, diocesan-level, COHI center, the Diocese of New York is pleased to invite interested lay persons to join in this dynamic training program for pastoral care ministry.

The diocesan center will provide a 14-week training program, steeped in Benedictine spirituality, leading participants to discern a path to ministry as they study a program rich in content and skill development. Through sessions held virtually on Zoom, participants will develop the expertise needed to engage in pastoral care ministries under the direction of their local parish leadership.

The learning modules include:

Benedictine Spirituality
An introduction to how Benedictine spirituality and the development of a personal rule of life aids spiritual discernment and supports the work of lay ministry. Participants commit to read and reflect daily on The Rule of St. Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister.

Theology of Pastoral Care
Understanding the characteristics, goals, and functions of pastoral care ministry leads participants to relate pastoral care ministry to their own lives and to gain insight into being a care giver.

Pastoral Identity
The four aspects of pastoral identity—attitude, ability, authority, and accountability—help lay ministers to develop their own pastoral identity through community reflection and by sharing their own stories.

Listening Skills
Learning and practicing the skills needed to be a compassionate listener to those who need a lay pastoral care ministers’ presence and support.

Prayer, Christian Meditation, and Silence
Trainees participate in individual and community prayer, worship, meditation, and silence to enhance their ability to understand how God is at work in their lives and the lives of others.

Spiritual Gifts
A means to discover the individual spiritual gifts, strengths, and weaknesses that we bring to pastoral care ministry.

Pastoral Care Visits and Boundaries
An examination of the specific pastoral care skills needed to support a pastoral care visit, to discern how and when to use prayer, and to be sensitive to personal boundaries.

Confidentiality, Practice Visits, and Debriefing
Providing the opportunity to train and work with experienced COHI lay pastoral care visitors to develop expertise through pastoral care simulations, and an understanding of ethical expectations.

Understanding Family Systems
Learning how to invite others to tell their stories in a way that includes family members and God, and to discover how our own family systems are part of telling our own stories.

Grief, Coping with Loss
Developing the expertise to listen compassionately to others as they tell their stories of loss and grief.

Pastoral Care for Seniors
Understanding the needs of seniors, and how to support their unique needs as they age.

Care for the Caregiver
Honoring one’s own individual needs and limitations, learning how to set boundaries and to know when to transition from care giver to care receiver.

Commitment to Ministry
Leading participants ultimately to name a pastoral care ministry and to engage actively in pastoral care work within their parish or community.

At the conclusion of the 14-week program, all participants receive a certificate and are commissioned in their parishes as Lay Pastoral Care Ministers.

“When I am asked to offer healing prayer or to tend to a parishioner in need,” says Pauline Brookfield, a ‘COHI Graduate’ from the center located at St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan,  “I no longer have doubts about my ability to respond lovingly and appropriately. COHI training has given me the confidence to put God squarely at the forefront of my life as I support others.”

If you would like to participate in this program starting in early 2021, please contact Deacon Richard at r[email protected],

Parishes interested in knowing more about establishing COHI Centers of their own, please contact the Rev. Canon Victor Conrado, Canon for Congregational Development and Vitality, at  [email protected] or Deacon Richard.