Pastoral Care: Reframing Adversity

Pastoral Care: Reframing Adversity

In March, as the world shifted into pandemic mode, CCS sensed a need in the church to reflect on the pastoral care implications of this new reality. We hosted a series of online workshops that introduced pastoral care skills and concepts and provided a forum for people to discuss their own challenges and contexts. We were overwhelmed with how many people wanted to take part. Joan Zaretsky participated in all three workshops. We invited her to share her reflections.

During April 2020, I participated in three online pastoral care workshops offered by the Centre for Christian Studies. These workshops came at a time when I was craving some intellectual and social stimulation in the midst of the COVID upheaval in our world.

During the first workshop, “Pastoral Care in a Time of Crisis,” my mind drifted to a course I teach at the University of Winnipeg on resiliency. In that course we talk about how resiliency is generally thought of as bouncing back, but often we can never bounce back to the person we were prior to a crisis. We instead refer to resiliency as “reframing adversity” – accepting what is happening to us and looking at the issue through a different lens or viewpoint to find a positive perspective. With COVID, we need to accept our lives will be changed forever and, instead of focussing on the negative challenges, shift our thinking to a new paradigm. What have we been learning that supports a new and positive direction post-COVID? I have a wall saying in the entrance to our home which states, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”  It reminds me daily to thank God for what we do have and not to get caught up with the many fears which COVID has generated in our society.            

The second session introduced “The Spiral Model of Reflection and Action.” This reminded me of a similar decision-making framework developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs called the “Focussed Conversation Model”, in which there are four stages which support individual and group decision-making: Objective, Reflective, Interpretative and Decisional. I have used this model in many educational contexts and now in our analysis of changes in our church communities brought on by COVID. Talking with my senior “phone buddies”, I ask them about their situations and their challenges; we talk about their feelings and emotions surrounding the COVID pandemic and how it has been changing their lives; and I try to get them to suggest ideas for moving forward. Sometimes I will suggest strategies such as writing letters to their grandchildren, jotting down a memory of their past every day to share with their family when they get to see them, or keeping a “gratitude journal”.

The third session, “Trauma Informed Approaches”, reminded me that we all carry our own “invisible backpacks” filled with fear and anxiety from our past experiences that can weigh us down. We can grow stronger by developing attitudes and skills to cope with our crises as a victor, or we can allow them to stress our bodies and minds as victims. We need to help our congregational members find the strategies they need to become victors when dealing with COVID. Noelle Bowles presented key principles regarding the impact of trauma and a model suggesting five things we all need to face life confidently: connections, calm, self-efficacy, safety and hope. She offered us a framework to review and use in relation to the different roles we play in our church community.

The three workshops offered a good blend of learning time, reflection time in small groups, and reporting time to share ideas. The models and ideas presented reminded me of similar frameworks I have learned but applied in new ways to uplift our congregations during this current COVID pandemic.

Joan Zaretsky

Joan has been an educator for the past 40 years, serving as a classroom teacher, principal, divisional curriculum consultant, a Professional Issues Staff Officer with the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and a sessional instructor at University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg.  Joan completed her Doctorate in Inclusive Special Education in 2011.  While she officially retired in 2011, she refers to herself as “reinvented” as she continues to consult with, and support, many  organizations which align with her passions.   She is a member of Lilyfield United Church located just outside of Winnipeg and is a member of the Prairie to Pine UCW Regional Executive.