Pastoral care (6): Trust needs space

Children are our future—this sentence is not only true, but it must also be verifiable. This also applies to the Church’s pastoral care, which may be confidential, but should not take place in secret. A great deal of mindfulness is required of all involved.

Unfortunately, there are more than enough examples of where boundaries have been crossed. The best measure to take against this is a high degree of education, which at the same time creates awareness and demands mindfulness. Both men and women involved in the pastoral care of their congregations need this education. They need to know that mindfulness is the method of choice in any job. Those who are mindful will know what is going on and will serve in the mind and spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ in their church-related duties.

What is mindfulness?

A number of Regional Churches have launched initiatives for mindfulness in pastoral care. The theoretical foundations are clear. Mindfulness is more than awareness. It is intended to express that the people at work here have a heightened interest in the well-being of the wards entrusted to their care. Genuine trust can only be achieved in a stress-free and conflict-free environment. The Church’s pastoral care must also fulfil this condition. It is to prevent stress and resolve conflict, not allow new conflicts to come into being. Seen in this light, mindfulness is not only a psychological or educational category, but rather an incentive to represent the gospel with the whole of its beneficial effect.

It all starts with prevention

We must take action before it is too late. The aim of prevention is to avoid cases of crisis in the first place. A letter to parents concerning the prevention of sexual violence against children states that prevention is a job for society as a whole. It literally states: “Sexual violence against children is a criminal phenomenon which, unfortunately, occurs in all races, cultures, educational, and social classes. This applies equally to children of New Apostolic families.” Prevention incorporates such simple points as:

  • children are allowed to say no; this is to be respected.
  • what is needed is a culture of trust at eye level.
  • the needs of the children are to be taken seriously.

Crossing boundaries has long-term consequences!

Accordingly, the corresponding guidelines state that the New Apostolic Church does not tolerate sexual assault, whether in private, in school, or in the Church. All teachers and ministers of the Church have been instructed about the criminal consequences of sexual assault. They must all sign a document before their ordination as ministers or an appointment or an assignment as teachers. In many District Churches a committee with professional and pastoral competence is available to advise those affected.

The gravity of the situation can only be understood by anyone who considers the possible consequences of crossing sexual boundaries: sexual violence can lead to psychological trauma and injury to the body, which can result in permanent suffering and leave a lifelong impact in memory and experience. Post-traumatic stress disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders, relationship disorders—the list of clinical afflictions is long.

A pattern of mindfulness

Mindfulness starts at the beginning, not when it's too late. Many behaviour patterns that seem quite natural belong in the catalogue of a prevention list:

  • no suggestive remarks or even jokes with a sexual reference
  • no crossing boundaries with gazes that are too intense (heavy staring) or that have a scrutinising effect (up to and including “undressing with one’s eyes”)
  • no physical contact or touching, no matter how well-intentioned

What’s more, it is important to take an active and clear stand against sexist, discriminatory, or violent behaviour.

Concepts and policy papers have already been issued in many New Apostolic Regional Churches. Following are a few further links:

The next part of our series on the subject of pastoral care will focus on Church instruction.

Photo: Gajus -

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Peter Johanning
Congregational life