Column: An ancient practice is helping us today

Marilyn Baldwin


This summer at Ascension Episcopal Church our Rector, the Rev. Buff Grace, is on sabbatical. In planning for this time, Buff, the Vestry and I thought this offered our community of faith an opportunity to grow in new ways.

We discovered this opportunity with a new program in pastoral care that could help us grow spiritually, as well as connect with our members and the broader community. We partnered with Community of Hope International (COHI), a Christian community of lay volunteer pastoral caregivers united in prayer and service.

Pastoral care is an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that is found in all cultures and traditions. It occurs when a person is present with compassion and non-judgement, for the sake of providing support to someone who is suffering or struggling in life. COHI prepares lay people to serve in all forms of pastoral care. Through spiritual formation and practical lessons on giving care, members learn to match theological insights and spiritual practices as they minister to others and give spiritual guidance. The training is centered around Christian meditation, encouragement and compassionate listening.

The program is shaped by Benedictine Spirituality and based on the pastoral education model used in hospitals to train pastoral caregivers. The training awakens participants to God’s call in our lives by helping us discover and understand our own spiritual gifts for ministry. We are encouraged to make the experience a journey into wholeness, to use this opportunity to explore a rule of life with balance, humility and hospitality.

As I have spent the summer working with the lay people at Ascension, I have been struck by how these principles developed by a Benedictine monk more than 1,500 years ago are still relevant today. Balance in our lives means not letting any one aspect of our lives lead us to become too attached. Humility helps us take ourselves not too seriously and to tread lightly through life. Hospitality reminds us to see each other as the face of Christ and remember we are all in this together.

These principles are an aid to help us live lives rooted in the gospel and grounded in the core values of Benedictine spirituality. When we make a personal rule of life for ourselves, we can see the way to live more mindfully and purposefully each day. This is a practice we can take into our daily lives. Even if we are not practicing caregivers we may apply these simple principles as we encounter others throughout our day.

This experience has brought our caregivers closer together and developed a strong base of support for our congregation and for the pastoral needs of the wider community.

Marilyn Baldwin is the associate priest for pastoral care at Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater.