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Pastoral Care and Parish Care

Ministry is a congregation-wide practice at First Parish, where we serve our own spiritual community and the community at large. This congregation puts its beliefs into practice through care and action, with its caring arms comprised of the Pastoral Care and Parish Care teams. Pastoral Care is spiritual in nature; Parish Care is more practical and logistical.

To contact our Pastoral Associates:

For either Pastoral Care or Parish Care needs, please send an e-mail to

The Pastoral Care Associates Team:

Sue Andrews (acting chair)
Karla Baehr
Jeff Cadow
Marga Dieter
Madeline Fine
Margaret Williams

Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care has many different levels and forms. It is building bridges of connection with others and can entail listening to a person’s story with compassion, helping someone find meaning of their experience, being present so they are not alone, helping them explore the holy, or providing tools and opportunities for them to help themselves. It can be defined as intentional compassion within boundaries that are healthy for all.

The Pastoral Care team at First Parish is composed of the Senior Minister and the Pastoral Care Associates (PCAs) — lay people with some training in providing care of a pastoral nature. The PCAs have different levels of training that influence the boundaries of the care each can provide. Pastoral care, whether lay or professional, always happens within covenantal agreements as an aspect of spiritual leadership.

Parish Care

Parish Care involves organizing assistance when a community member has practical needs such as getting a ride to the church or to a doctor’s appointment, or providing meals when a family is in crisis.

The Pastoral Care team maintains a list of congregants who have volunteered to provide such assistance and, when we identify a request, we coordinate the volunteers to meet the need.

Healthy Boundaries

All Pastoral Care Team members have a deep desire to help others. To do that effectively and keep our congregation healthy, we carefully consider limits on care we can provide.

It is helpful to know what pastoral care is not: Fixing problems in someone’s life, conducting therapy/counseling, providing guidance or answers, providing services to someone who cannot afford them otherwise, or taking on responsibility for another person’s challenges.

As mentioned earlier, the level of care depends upon our training. Ministers are able to adequately provide kinds of assistance that lay members cannot. When approached for care, we work as a team to determine who among us may be qualified to meet particular needs.

If we feel someone’s needs are greater than our capacity or expertise, we refer them to an outside service. We keep a list of referral services to which we can direct our community members.

Covenant of the Pastoral Care Associates

The Pastoral Care Associates are committed to providing a listening, caring, and spiritual presence to the members of the community of First Parish in Brookline. We pledge to provide a safe and sacred space for those in need, to obtain regular training that maintains and improves our ability to provide care, and to practice self-care such that our ministry is healthy and sustainable.

Being a Lay Pastoral Care Provider

PCAs possess characteristics that make them well suited to providing pastoral and/or parish care to our community. To provide pastoral care it certainly helps to have an open heart as well as a self-differentiated ego. The ability to listen with compassion and patience, to remain centered amidst another’s discomfort, and to avoid being a “fixer” and let people do their own work, is important. To maintain one’s own health while still connecting with others requires knowledge of when to step out of the way or refer someone to a professional, and having a desire to obtain training and be in supervision with a professional pastoral care provider.

These qualities and skills are nice to have when providing parish care, too. Coordinating parish care requires good organizational and communication skills because it involves maintaining a list of helpers, their abilities, reaching out to appropriate people when a need arises, and following up to see if ongoing needs are being met effectively and within healthy boundaries.

A few guidelines for lay pastoral care providers from the New England Regional UUA office are:

  • Be clear with yourself and those you walk alongside about what healthy lay pastoral care looks like.
  • Understand your responsibility to your professional pastoral care provider (the Senior Minister), and be sure you have the proper support.
  • Be clear with yourself and anyone you walk alongside what confidentiality means, and who is included in that confidentiality.
  • Always know who you can reach out to for support, and never allow concerns about confidentiality prevent you from receiving support.
  • Set good boundaries of time for yourself on how much lay pastoral care you can provide.
  • Don’t let being a lay pastoral care provider prevent you from seeking support when you need it yourself.

Time Commitment

If you’re considering becoming a lay pastoral care provider, it helps to know how frequently the PCAs meet and in which activities a PCA typically engages.

  • Monthly meeting are 90 minutes long (in the 2018-2019 year, we usually met on the third Sunday of the month from 12:45-2:15 at church).
  • A few times a year, each PCA helps with the Candles of Joys and Concerns by either lighting candles as people come forward or discretely taking notes (which help us follow up with support).
  • We have a kick-off meeting in the fall that’s 2-3 hours long.
  • Attending at least one workshop a year is about a 3/4-day affair (we did one in 2019, in Providence, that went from 9:30 to 3:00 on a Saturday).
  • Occasional to-do items (e.g., collaborating on a new web page, creating a list of external resources) take a few hours. Might happen once or twice a year.
  • Providing care to someone varies depending on your availability, your comfort and energy level, and the care needed. Sometimes it’s sending an e-mail to someone asking how they’re doing and they’re fine. Other times it might be having coffee with someone once or twice for a couple of hours. If you want to help with “parish care,” it might be picking someone up at home and taking them to the doctor, or cooking a casserole and dropping it off.
  • In the summer, during weeks the Senior Minister is on vacation, one PCA is on call each week in case a need for care arises in the community. The church’s Parish Administrator usually contacts the PCA on call because the church office is usually the first point of contact for those in need. Lay providers can lean on our Affiliate Ministers or someone from the UUA for support.

Support and Training

To reach the level of self awareness and maintain the skills needed to balance compassion with nurturing of the self, PCAs regularly meet with each other and the Senior Minister for collegial support and supervision, and they obtain, at least annually, training from the UUA on healthy pastoral care principles and practices.

Any personal information we gain in ministry we hold in confidence with our Senior Minister. Should we share it within the team, we do so only if it improves our ability to care for our community and ourselves.