"A bright, reflective and faithful man with much to offer the Unitarian Universalist Church and the world."
Rev. Jennie R. Gould, PhD, BCC
Director of Clinical Pastoral Education, Boston Medical Center
Once, during my hospital chaplaincy, I pastored to a COVID patient over the phone. (We interns weren't allowed to go into COVID rooms.) The man was in tears. His mother in Venezuela was dying and he couldn't go to see her. We spent an hour on the phone and at the end, he said he felt much better and thanked me for my spiritual support.
What my patient didn't know was that my own 96-year-old mother had been hospitalized with COVID herself and had just been discharged to home with hospice. It was two days before Christmas and I was driving 6 hours the next day -- Christmas Eve -- to see her. He was unaware that I, too, was crying while we were on the phone.
I think of pastoral care as social justice on an intimate level—seeking balance or setting things aright spiritually. This intimacy with which we are entrusted requires boundaries to be effective and to honor the sanctity of the pastor-congregant relationship. It is also so that in helping we do no harm, as in the physician’s Hippocratic oath. When I spoke with that patient, I knew there was a boundary I couldn't cross. By not crossing it, I became fully present for him.
We ministers have what I call soul boundaries. We help people seeking pastoral care derive power from their religiosity and their spirit to make brave, healthy and wholehearted choices and decisions. We help spark their discovery of the divine inside and journey with them through their discernment and their crises. But we are not psychologists or social workers. We work from an expansive framework of love and presence. That to me is the essence of pastoral care.
Both that man and I prayed for our mothers. And both of our mothers survived.
Preparing to visit a patient in the CCU at Boston Medical Center.