Pastoral care (08): a big heart for little children

Who cares for the children? Their parents, of course, but also the teachers, the whole congregation, and naturally also the ministers. But how can they help? And what are the special challenges of pastoral care for children?

Understanding the key issues

Pastoral care always looks at the whole person and therefore not only focuses on a person’s spiritual cares but also the issues of everyday life. And in this context children are by no means miniature adults; this is also reflected in their thoughts and the unique issues they have. It is good for them to have a trusted minister at their side to help them deal with the following aspects.

  • Relationships. Challenges posed by growing up (puberty), conflicts with their parents, and disappointments caused by their friends are all part of life. This requires understanding, support, and sometimes some good advice. And then there are also extraordinary situations, such as parents separating or the death of a close family member.
  • School. Sometimes the grades could be better and not all classmates are easy to deal with. Pressure to perform well at school and bullying can cause distress.
  • Church. Divine services and Sunday School may be fascinating or not. When a child’s fascination dwindles, it puts strain on the relationship with parents, teachers, and other members of the congregation.

Finding a good opportunity

Pastoral care takes place in services especially for children, in Sunday School, and other religious education classes, and during outings or camps. But pastoral care is also very individual. It is good if a minister can connect with even the youngest members of the congregation. There is no road map and no magic formula, but there are various approaches.

  • The regular conversation during a family visit is not only intended for adults; the Priest should include the children in the conversation and let them participate in it.
  • Pastoral care conversation. There is no need to make an appointment long before. Pastoral care in the context of a normal conversation, sharing in the need and joy of a brother or sister, and being compassionate is possible any time.
  • Keeping in touch. Necessary trust is not something that is built up by one or two conversations with someone. Pastoral care is based on permanent and sincere interest that is borne by love.

Understanding the great challenges

Pastoral care requires love, time, and authenticity. And once a good basis has been created it still does not mean that pastoral care is free of pitfalls. Professionals speak about prevention and recommend caution. This applies particularly when dealing with children. It is important that the minister is aware of the dangers.

  • Caught in the crossfire. Pastoral care builds bridges between people and connects them. Pastoral care does not take sides or condemn, which is especially important when ministers learn of conflicts and disputes. The trust of all parties involved is important.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be instrumentalised. The minister is a pastor and not a child care expert. The minister supports the children and their parents. He is not responsible that rules issued by the parents or the school are kept.
  • Suspicion of sexual misconduct. Pastoral care is characterised by love and care and closeness. So that pastoral care does not end up as a balancing act it is essential that the minister recognises and observes limits, especially when dealing with children.

Seeking and accepting support

As a rule, ministers are not qualified specialists in any of the above fields. Most ministers in the Church are active on a voluntary basis and have different professional backgrounds. The Church supports its ministers with various offers and the ministers are well advised to accept these.

  • Training offers. The District Churches offer workshops and minister training and provide information material.
  • Advice and support: The District Churches provide individual support through professionally trained members (childcare experts, qualified educators, and psychologists).
  • Preventive measures: A number of concepts and policies have been drawn up by the District Churches (such as the Awareness Concept, Sexual Misconduct Policy).

Children can and should experience security, understanding, and openness. And we want them to grow into convinced Christians who can find their way around and feel at ease in the Church and in life. And pastoral care supports them on this path with love and through role models.

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Oliver Rütten
Congregational life