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The five crucial functions of pastoral care

Pastoral care is difficult to define because it is a phenomenon that is both simple and complex. Our Head of Counseling, Dr Tom Cerni, is accurate when he points to its essential simplicity, with its one essential aim of helping people to know love, both as something to be received and something to give.  

The pastoral paradigm

Etymologically, pastoral care has its roots in the teachings and organisation of the Christian church. From the Latin root ‘pascere’ (to feed) and articulated by the powerful metaphor of the Good Shepherd, pastoral care describes the spiritually and morally sustaining concern of the leader for their flock.  

The ‘pastoral paradigm’ can, in fact, have a significant integrative function in relation to much of the life of the human community. It has played a very important role in the life and focus of a school like The Scots College for over 125 years. 

The five pastoral care functions 

It is necessary, therefore, to clarify this area of investigation by way of a definition. Pastoral care consists of helping acts, done by representative persons, directed towards the healing, sustaining, guiding, reconciling and nurturing of persons whose troubles and concerns arise in the context of daily interactions and ultimate means and concerns. 

  1. Healing – a pastoral function that aims to overcome some impairment by restoring the person to wholeness and by leading them to advance beyond their previous condition. 
  2. Sustaining – Helping a hurting person to endure and to transcend a circumstance in which restoration to their former condition or recuperation from their malady is either impossible or so remote as to seem improbable. 
  3. Guiding – assisting perplexed persons to make confident choices between alternative courses of thought and action, when such choices are viewed as affecting the present and the future state of human wholeness. 
  4. Reconciling – seeking to re-establish broken relationships between man (sic) and fellow man and between man and God. Historically, reconciling has employed two modes – forgiveness and discipline. 
  5. Nurturing – enable people to develop their potentialities, throughout the life journey with all its valleys, peaks, and plateaus. Nurturing and guiding are the pastoral care functions in which education and counseling are most intertwined. Many teachers and parents in schools see this function as critical in the achievement of their community’s educational mission. 

 Implementing pastoral care in schools

The full development of pastoral care depends on utilising all five strands. It depends on the vigorous interaction and balanced development within an educational, institutional and/or community of faith, of each of these caring functions, applied to the special needs of young people in our rapidly changing and challenging society. 

Caring is an ordinary human activity; human beings care for one another and for the world in which they live. Unfortunately, we also fail to care for one another and our world. We also care for the tradition and the memory of human history, of which we are custodians. We care for it by remembering it and passing it along through language, myths, symbols, and stories.  

Henri Nouwen speaks of care in terms of reaching out to others. To reach out to others and to care for them in some way we must, he says, be hospitable and welcoming. Caring means protecting or being the custodian of another, not by enclosing it or locking it away, but by making a larger space for it.

The custodian of a painting, for example, cares for it by making it available to others so they can see and appreciate it. Custodians of museums must occasionally lock away a painting, but the impulse of a good curator is to show a painting in the larger space of a gallery. 

Good custodians or curators want to share with others; they must be the kind of people who are generous with possessions and hospitable to others so they also can enjoy what is being cared for. They must love the things they care for. 

When we adopt love as our goal and caring as our moral orientation, we are also led to examine our own practices as teachers. Care is not necessarily a matter of logic or justice, but more a matter of caring within a circle or web of responsibility. An ethic of care is not unconcerned with individual rights, the common good or community traditions, but it de-emphasises these concepts and recasts them in terms of relation. 

Pastoral care at Scots

If our College’s practice of care provision is to be worthy of being called pastoral care, it must challenge, support and restore the most profoundly human aspects of our students’ lives and offer them the possibility of a new beginning (renewal) and restored strength (repose) for the task Christ calls them to in this world. 

We are about to embark on an amazing journey as we seek to lead and serve educators and families in their understanding and practice of pastoral care and the development of character. 

To learn more about our approach to pastoral care, download your copy of our Prospectus.

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