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Pastoral care of children

I’m doing training on Saturday on the topic of pastoral care of children, and my slides are attached below.  I’ve also done a new Pinterest board on pastoral care and mental health, with lots of resources – do suggest more in the comments.

There are two anecdotes I refer to in the slides, under “the healing power of story,” but which I don’t explain in detail – I will during the training itself, of course.

The first one is from my mother’s ministry, with children from deprived areas of New Haven, Connecticut, in the USA. Many of these neighbourhoods have high levels of incarceration – what sociologists and activists are calling “the school-to-prison pipeline.” My mother ran a Tuesday evening club that included worship, art time, and a communal meal. One day she was telling the story of Joseph, and got to the point where he was thrown into jail on false charges.

“My daddy’s in jail!” one kid piped up.

“So’s my brother!” another replied.

“My uncle …” “My cousin …” the stories started coming thick and fast. The Biblical story of Joseph had given them the starting point to explore a difficult and painful part of their own lives. It gave them a launchpad to talk about what it feels like to be in jail, what it feels like for someone you love to be in jail, what it feels like when the charges are unfair, and whether God is still with you even in those situations.  And it gave the leaders a chance to start looking at how the liberation of an individual which leads to the liberation of the entire people is at the heart of so many Bible stories – Joseph doesn’t just get out of jail to save himself, when he gets out of jail he saves all of Egypt, and his own family as well, who had brutalised him in the past.

The second anecdote is from my own ministry. I was looking at the story of Ruth, and what struck me (love-treepartly from having read Lauren Winner’s excellent book Girl Meets God, which looks in detail at Ruth) was how this story provides a broad and inclusive model of what it means to be a family. It’s a step in the movement away from the purity model of the early patriarchs, when who your father was, and how cleanly your blood led you back to Abraham, was what mattered most, and towards Jesus’s model of, “those who follow my commandments are my family,” and the early church’s assertion that “there is no longer Jew nor Greek … all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Ruth is a woman from a different tribe, the Moabites, and she is brought into God’s Chosen People by marriage. After her husband dies, she chooses to stay with his widowed mother – her family is now one of choice, not of blood. Her second husband is Boaz, a relative of her late first husband, but their marriage requires another kinsman to refute his claim on her. Upon Ruth and Boaz’s marriage, and the subsequent birth of Obed, the family is now: the mother of Ruth’s first husband, her distant kinsman Boaz, his wife Ruth (from a different tribe), and their child. Naomi has a grandmotherly relationship to her son’s widow’s second husband’s child, and the Ruth/Boaz relationship is a mixed marriage. How very modern this all starts to sound! (And of course, out of this family of adoption and choice and mixed heritage came King David … and Jesus himself.)

So as one of the activities, I encouraged children to draw their family trees, and to think about “who do I count as my family?” I asked them to think about godparents, close friends – are they family? How do people become part of our family? Birth, adoption, and marriage are all ways of becoming family. Are there others? What about our church family? What about people who have died, like Ruth’s first husband? Are they still part of our family? How do we keep them close to us?

I was working with a small group of children at the family tree table, and when I said, “what about people who have died?” one girl’s face lit up, and she said, “like my brothers!”

The story gave her a way to tell me what had happened in her family, and she received affirmation that her brothers were still part of her family. She told me their names, we put them on her family tree, and she received a story which connected to her own experiences, and the affirmation that God’s story relates to her own life, and that church is the kind of place where you can process this sort of thing.

Please do check out the Pinterest board and the slides below, and let me know your thoughts, and any resources I haven’t stumbled across!

pastoral-care-of-children