Faith Perspectives {Section A}

Discovering the Faith Perspective of Others


Sharing about pastoral care

During the first session people were invited to share their perceptions about the nature of pastoral care. Each described how care was provided from the perspective of their faith tradition. It became apparent that the term "pastoral care" was seen as having a Christian origin, and at first it seemed that other traditions did not have the same emphasis on 'being pastoral'. 'Pastoral' is a concept that emerged from the idea of the shepherd caring for the flock. After further discussion there was the recognition that within each tradition caring activities occur than can be described as 'pastoral'.

However, each tradition identified particular religious rituals that were important at times of crisis, such as at the time of death. In Muslim communities the term "pastoral care" is not used. Visiting the sick is highly recommended but it is provided by families rather than by the Muslim religious organisation. Similarly the Hindu relies on families to visit rather than a specifically religious figure. As one Jewish participant commented, "Family look after family".


'The Family' as the origin of pastoral care

It became clear that there was a distinction emerging between rituals of religion and the provision of pastoral care. While particular religious activities were important in times of crisis, and the spiritual understandings were often given perspective through a religion, it was family and cultural groups who tended to provide what may be described as "pastoral care". This affirmed 'the family' as the origin of pastoral care as presented in the Philosophy.

In Australia, with the increased isolation experienced in our society, particularly when crisis occurs in an institution such as a hospital, there has been a growing emphasis on the need for pastoral care. An older member of the training group, born in Australia, reminisced that in contrast to the isolating nature of our current society, urban community in the 1940's was communal with neighbours personally knowing and caring for each other. This family and community care was still occurring within particular ethnic groups, but increasingly more of the population can experience isolation. The concept of pastoral care within an institutional context is comparatively recent, and has become recognised and used in the secular context. The term "pastoral care" comes from a predominantly Christian perspective, but it was obvious from the responses with this group that the concept and need is consistent with the other faith traditions.


Sharing about faith traditions

It was during the third and fourth weeks that members shared about their own faith tradition. They had been asked not only to briefly outline their religious tradition, but also to nominate some saints and heroes within it and to share about what their tradition has provided for them. This was an opportunity to share about their own faith tradition and to understand better other traditions. More importantly it brought a sharing together about what is basically important for each member as a person. As one group member said, "There is such similarity in different words." Another, "There was excitement today in how much we have learnt at depth from each other." And at the end of the course it was said, "In contrast to the past, I can now relate easier to people of other faiths".

While there were many common aspects that could be recognised between the traditions, the diversity of understandings also stood out. For brevity in this report a couple of aspects are noted. For example, while the Jewish, Christian and Moslem traditions have emerged from a common source with Abraham, each view their own distinct dogma and rituals as essentially the revealed truth. In contrast, the Buddhist and Hindu traditions focus on the journey of the individual towards a divine reality. For them there are various deities and processes which can assist them discover truth in that journey.

What emerged from this sharing was a greater awareness and understanding of the background of people of other traditions. At the same time, it was said that "In the course there has been an experience of inclusiveness and community with understanding so as to not preclude the opportunity to share with people of other faith traditions."


Cultural Differences

Cultural differences were also identified as an area that required sensitivity in developing relationships. Even within faith traditions there can be a variety of cultural differences between different countries. In the exercises for developing listening skills for pastoral care, there was a realisation of the need for sensitivity to different cultural and religious expectations, such as relationship between the opposite sexes, and appropriate eye contact or touch. For example, Western culture values eye contact, while Eastern or Asian cultures minimize eye contact.


» Next: {Section B:1} "Intentional Friendship": A Philosophy of Pastoral Care