Saturday, March 16, 2013

Empowering Communities of Care

A little bit of life fighting
through an interminable season of
cold and darkness. 
This week in my Gospel and Global Media Culture class we were asked to look at the site Caring Bridge as a case study for engaging in community care by way of digital media.  We were asked to think missionally about our presence in such sites and what that means for our ministry in empowering communities of care.

Caring Bridge provides an opportunity for people experiencing a serious illness or injury to share regular updates with their communities of support. In their own words or the words of those closest to them.  It allows for a centralized location to disseminate updates so that everyone who cares about a certain individual has access to correct information, and that the person experiencing illness or injury does not have to tell their story over and over again.  It also provides a place for friends and loved ones to leave messages of support in a location that does not demand an immediate response.   In my experience in social work and in CPE, I have learned that having agency on any level with regards to one's personal situation in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  Caring Bridge allows someone to tell their own story in their own words.  They can choose what to share and what not to share.

For all of these reasons, Caring Bridge is useful for the minister to begin a dialogue of pastoral care, but the nature of public church leadership demands that we go beyond merely keeping updated on Caring Bridge posts or occasionally making comments in the guestbook on such a site.  Ministry is tremendously relational, and as church leaders, we as ministers must take initiative to reach out to those in our communities of care.  Caring Bridge is a useful place to start conversation, but it cannot be where the conversation ends. Many people feel vulnerable and ashamed to ask for help when they are experiencing illness or injury.  It falls to the pastor to ask if this individual wants to have a visit, then, there is an option to exercise personal choice in a situation where there are so many things outside their control.  It is not possible for the average pastor to be on top of every conceivable pastoral care concern, but this is where the body of Christ comes in.  If a community knows that their pastor cares deeply about them, they will come to her/him in time of need and encourage others to do the same.  It becomes a missional activity.  Social Media is particularly advantageous in helping pastors keep abridge of what is going on with their people.  Best practices for all social media usage by minsters still apply to utilizing Caring Bridge.  But above all, Caring Bridge provides the opportunity for the minister to have a jumping off point in the caring relationship, as well as have a better idea of what the individual's larger support network looks like.  I think it is a very useful tool when utilized to enhance traditional pastoral care relationships, but definitely does not replace them.

Additionally, I received a very interesting piece of advice from a pastoral care professor about a year ago in a funeral praxis.  He suggested setting an alert in your phone or electronic calendar about one month, six months, and one year after the death or serious diagnosis of a congregation member/their close family member.  Caring Bridge sites can help you keep track of these dates.  You can just send a short email or note by mail, but having this very simple outreach can make a world of difference in a time of unbearable grief.

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