This past week we have been open every night for people who need to go somewhere after the day's events at the trial of R. Gray, one of the men accused of the Harvey murders and many others. I'm glad that we have offered this. Not only have people had a place to go, call, and email (yes, email - "can't make it tonight, but my heart is there"), but it has been a lesson to us and to the volunteers on the nature of pastoral care.
When I first began in ministry and held office hours, I expected a line of people looking for pastoral care. Instead, I spent alot of time listening to CDs and reading. I would go weeks ithout a formal appointment. But I was doing plenty of pastoral care. I just didn't know it at first.
People would stop me after a meeting to "ask a question." Others slipped me notes after services. Some would come 15 minutes AFTER office hours. It was actually a few years before I understood that this is the norm, not the exception. So many people are uncomfortable asking for help or sharing their pain. For many, they don't intend to come to me for help, it just slips out. I'm used to it now, but our volunteers are not.
I explain it in light of 12 step programs. A friend of mine says that he has been responsible for opening the room before a meeting for years. Sometimes no one comes. Other times people come and it seems fruitless. But every now and again, someone's life is saved. One life makes all the empty rooms, low attendance, and immeasurable results worth it.
Pastoral Care isn't about numbers, and measuring. Care of any sort starts with an open heart, leads to an open building, and never really ends.