The Umbrella of Soul Care

Clearly, there will be different rules of engagement, but what might each of these visits have in common? Each is concerned with issues that challenge our everyday understanding of how life is to be endured or lived.

Soul Care is an umbrella term, that holds all sorts of ideas together.

It’s a covering for a loose cluster of interrelated ministries including pastoral care, spiritual care, chaplaincy, pastoral counselling, spiritual direction or pastoral supervision. To make matters more complicated, terms are used interchangeably.

clearwater-beach-umbrella-and-chairs-usa-274001Soul Care is care of living souls. All people are living souls, matter, dust of the ground, given form by the creative breath of God.

Living souls are neighbours and strangers, people of different faiths and beliefs, some identify as religious and others – not at all.  Living souls are animated and enlivened by God’s creative breath. All living souls are recipients of his sustaining power, common grace, providential care and general revelation.

Soul care is person-centred care. It is concerned with the whole person – a living soul comprising their physical, emotional, psychological, relational, social and spiritual being.

From a Christian perspective, one way of thinking about these terms is to consider the extent to which they are concerned with relationship to God or Christian faith, or whether they are to do with more general topics concerned with living – meaning and purpose – or a conversation focused on a particular challenge or life issue.

One way, and perhaps the simplest way of determining the type of conversation is to consider the ‘how, who, what, when, where and why’of the conversation. Then we will know who is involved in the conversation, how they came to be connected, what issue is being discussed, when and where are they meeting and why, this will help clarify the expectations around a pastoral conversation.

Examples of soul care might be a minister visiting a parishioner in their home, or an Emergency Service Chaplain, attending victims of a train crash. Soul care could be a pastoral carer visiting an elderly Buddhist patient in a Christian residential care facility, or it might be a spiritual carer visiting all patients in an Intensive Care Unit as part of the Allied Health Team.

Clearly, there will be different rules of engagement, but what might each of these visits have in common? Each is concerned with issues that challenge our everyday understanding of how life is to be endured or lived. For the person being visited, the visits are contextual, location provokes, prompts or evokes new queries. These new queries are questions of meaning, belonging, purpose, ethics, suffering and well-being, good and evil. They are not psychological questions so much as existential questions to do with philosophy and/or theology. From a Christian perspective, they might be questions of faith, hope, love, guilt, pain, repentance, forgiveness, perseverance, joy or grace.

What are the origins of these different ministries, and how do these different ‘soul cares’ intersect with the ‘big’ existential questions?

Chaplains (and Chaplaincies) had their origins in medieval times when a chaplain was a clergyman or member of religious order attached to secular institution or aristocratic house. Thus, over the centuries chaplains were attached to hospitals, prisons, royal houses, the navy or military and colonial outposts. Following this traditional usage, the terms chaplain has continued to be used for clergy ministering away from home or ministering in attached to a secular institution, and not paid for by the church, particularly where ministry is required in the form of religious services as in the defence forces.

Pastoral Care is an even older term, it is an ancient Christian term that derives its name from the Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, an instruction manual for clergy in the art of pastoral care for the Christian pastor-shepherd, as they care for the flock that God has placed within their care. Similar books have been written at different times to guide ministers in their work of the care of their flock, or parishioners.

Martin Bucer, On the True Pastoral Care and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, were books that were devoted to a Biblical, church-based ministry with the concern of members of congregation caring for and following up other members of the same congregation. Pastoral care broadened over time to include lay (non-clergy) Christian visitors and then was adopted by secular organisations to describe their employee care and well-being programmes.

More recently, Spiritual Care has been the term adopted for use in the secular organisations, such as the WHO in recognition of the less religious nature of the care, and more accurately describes the ‘provision of assessment, counselling, support and ritual in matters of a person’s beliefs, tradition, values and practices enabling the person to access their own traditional resources.’ [1]

By contrast, pastoral or Christian counselling will be more structured, more commonly based on psychological insights, through a Christian lens. The session will be directed towards an agreed goal. Likewise, spiritual direction and pastoral supervision, while having their own bodies of literature are similar in that they have structure and goals. Pastoral theology is the study of theology in relationship to ministry and practice of pastoral care.

Different forms of Soul Care have different emphases in different spheres of perceived reality. Spiritual care within the public space has an emphasis on the horizontal realm of space-time created order. The created order includes all the natural, supernatural and transcendent elements of the created world. From a Christian perspective, the vertical plane the revealed Word from the creator, the Triune God of the Bible, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is an essential asymmetry to the relationship between creator and creature, God is God, and living souls are human beings.

Depending on direction from which they are approached, the horizontal axis, with all its natural, supernatural and transcendent elements can intersect with the revealed vertical realm. Soul care creates the possibility of deeper exploration through the hospitality of attending through attentive listening, considered speech, space, prayer, and thoughtful connection with the Word of God through wisdom, parables, an encounter with Jesus, psalms or spiritual songs.

Soul care is an encompassing idea that covers more specific terms such as pastoral care and spiritual care; or pastoral counselling or Christian counselling; pastoral theology or chaplaincy and even spiritual direction and pastoral supervision. At its deepest level, Soul Care that seeks to see living souls become whole, both horizontally and vertically.

[1] definition of Spiritual Care from Spiritual Health Victoria

Author: Pastoral Thinking

This web-page is a place where chaplains, pastoral and spiritual carers are encouraged to think both deeply and laterally about the world we live in, and the pastoral care we provide.

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