The Challenge After You Step Out Of The Pulpit

Stepping outside the pulpit the response begins

Holy Week always seems to be busy and filled with many events and activities. Indeed, retracing the last week of Jesus’ earthly life brings up a lot of feelings of tension, anxiety as well as pain loss and grief. People come to church during Holy week and at other times during the Church year, and they will exhibit any or all of these conditions.

Dr. Craig Barnes of Princeton Theological Seminary has recently noted while looking out at a congregation:

“In the third pew on the right sits a newlywed couple, back in church for the first time since their wedding. They can’t keep their hands off each other. At the other end of that same pew is a new widow who’s back in the church for the first time since her husband’s funeral.

A few rows back on the same side of the sanctuary is a family that is coming apart at the seams. The husband is angry that his wife wants to take a promotion that means moving the family. She’s angry that he’s holding her back. They’re both angry that they can’t get their teenage son to talk to them. The teenager, sporting a shock of purple in his hair, slumps in the pew to make it clear that’s he angry about being dragged to church.

Behind them, a young father cradles the baby girl the pastor baptized a few weeks ago. He tells himself she’ll never grow up to have purple hair. Two pews behind them is an older couple whose daughter is a wildly successful attorney in New York. She never talks to them.

Across the aisle, two-thirds of the way back, sits a well-dressed gentleman who will leave the worship service to go to the Alzheimer’s unit of a nearby nursing home to visit his wife. A couple of pews in front of him is a middle-aged couple who want the pastor to fire the youth director. And sitting just ahead of them is a single mother with a son in the army who’s hoping something will be said about those who put their lives in harm’s way.” Listening all the way into the pulpit | The Christian Centuryhttps://www.christiancentury.org/article/faith-matters/listening-all-way-pulpit.

Any and all of these people have come, hopefully, to hear the Good news being proclaimed. They are coming to feel comfort, to be able to receive socialization as well as some kind of support.

Churches can assist people who are in need with regard to food, maybe financial assistance with regard to housing and utility assistance. However, churches are not always equipped to provide psychosocial support for parishioners who are in their pews.

The reality is that most pastors are not trained to be therapists, and yet there is a tremendous need for more psychotherapy services being offered in the environ of churches.

Why is this the case? There is the growing challenge of access to mental health care. Furthermore, insurance panels can be restrictive regarding who a person may be given permission to see as a provider. Not to mention the phenomena of capitation, i.e. limiting the amount of sessions available for a person to be seen by a provider.

I have witnessed many occasions where therapy was curtailed for someone when they were at their height of vulnerability, and the capitation process became decapitating for the person seeking help.

Here churches could provide a most needed ministry. One church could provide a space for offices enabling providers to work seeing parishioners and others from the community or a God send would be having two or more churches to pool their resources to help pave the way for these services.

Budget for these services could happen by earmarking monies from a local congregation or by again pooling financial resources from several congregations including support from a district, or conference or national denominational office. Several existing church-based Pastoral Counseling centers are also doing separate fundraising.

Jesus preached but he also acted upon his beliefs. He provided a mud pack to a blind man’s eyes; he raised Lazarus from the dead.

What can we do to help us with our blindness and with the dead feeling that we may carry around in our lives?

By providing counseling and support to our parishioners and others, by mental health professionals, we can provide another portal to healing and transformation for our lives and for others.

May it be so.

The Rev. Peter E. Bauer is a longtime licensed clinical social worker and minister for the United Church of Christ. A LCL, he is also an Army and Navy veteran.