“COMFORT MY PEOPLE.”
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7:2-7
The induction of a new Minister of Pastoral Care with special responsibilities as Chaplain for the Retirement Village is a high moment in the lives of church members and village residents alike. If the Chaplain has a successful ministry in the Retirement Village, the relationship established today will last through the life-time of most present residents. The last time I inducted a Chaplain here, was with Pastor Jordan who has served faithfully these past thirteen years.
Today we induct a new Chaplain who also will have responsibility for the pastoral care of church members. If the Pastoral Care minister has a successful ministry then church members will be delighted. It is absolutely essential for every church to have good Pastoral care available for members for there are times when every member of the church can have need of pastoral care. Obviously that includes times of sickness and hospitalization, times of family trauma and accident, birth of a new child, retirement from work, times of change of direction of family members, marriage stress and personal challenge.
Personally, although senior minister of two very large churches with specialist ministers on staff for every need, I always felt I had to fulfil a pastoral care role for my ministry to be rounded and for my preaching to be relevant. For over fifty years I visited members in every time of need known to me, and celebrated a private communion with those in hospital or frail and housebound. (A description of my understanding of how every minister should be a Pastor is found in my autobiography, “Leaving a Legacy” Chapter 8 Pastor)
1. A CHAPLAIN AND PASTORAL CARE MINISTER.
The Chaplain is an integral part of the caring team, in every Retirement Village, Church, hospital, school and prison where so appointed. A chaplain is a clergy-person authorised to perform religious functions for a family, a royal court, a school, a unit in the armed forces, prison, or other institution. A chaplain leads religious services in a public assembly, legislative body, or fraternal organisation. But what is the primary role of the Pastoral Carer in an aged care centre and church?
2. THE PRIMARY ROLE OF THE CHAPLAIN AND PASTORAL CARE MINISTER.
Over the years I have had to direct Chaplains and Pastoral Care ministers to their primary focus. One thought his ministry was to be an advocate for residents before management, the chief bearer of complaints. Another thought his role was to improve the management and administration. Another thought her role was to help staff grieve in the passing of a resident. Another thought his role was to earn his keep by walking around and chatting while his important work was done elsewhere. For all the conferences chaplains have attended, you would think a role definition was simple.
Yet I have had to remind chaplains to encourage prayer among the people. An aged care facility and the church can be the power house of the whole community if people are encouraged to spend time in prayer. I have had to remind chaplains that a retirement village is a field white unto harvest for evangelism. When I was a chaplain to the four retirement villages I built in Victoria in the 1970’s, I had the privilege of leading many residents to Christ, and to baptising many in advanced years. Chaplains who do not lead residents to Christ and baptism are failing in their responsibilities under their ordination. Their worship services will not grow.
But the primary task is to bring comfort to residents. For some this will mean a sense of hope in a world where many despair. I never visited a unit without reading a passage of scripture and praying with the resident. For others it will mean sitting with them in their units and listening in friendship, bringing from the Word of God some assurance that will hold them long after the chaplain has left.
For others, it will mean the binding up of a broken heart, for as Tennyson said, “Never morning wore to evening, but some heart did break.” For others it will mean the discovery that their sins can be forgiven, or of an assurance of heaven and reunion with loved ones who have died in faith.
Even the most adventurous of us need comfort. Even the most Christian of us needs comfort. The Apostle Paul was a trail-blazing, courageous, pioneer missionary. But after years in the work, and endless hardships endured, he needed some comfort.
2 COR 7:2-7 “I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.”
Paul had expected to meet Titus in Macedonia, but he was not there. Paul’s body had no rest. In 2:13 he had said his “mind” had no rest at Troas. “Fears within” alludes to Paul’s persistent apprehension about Titus’s reception at Corinth, his safety in travel, and the Corinthian response to the “severe letter” he had written to them. “Conflicts on the outside” points to violent quarrelling that focused on Paul and to persistent persecution that beset him in Macedonia.
It seemed to Paul that from the human point of view his whole future as apostle to the Gentiles was related to the Corinthians’ reaction to his assertion of authority in the letter delivered by Titus. And now the non-arrival of Titus tended to confirm his worst fears. God used three means to dispense comfort to the depressed or downhearted apostle: the actual arrival of Titus; Titus’s positive experience at Corinth (“the comfort you have given him”); and the reassuring news he brought.
It was of great comfort for Paul to hear the Corinthians’ attitude toward him, of their “affection” for him, their desire to see him and be reconciled to him, their “deep sorrow” over their disloyal behavior, and their “ardent concern” to defend Paul’s cause and to discipline the guilty party in Corinth. Titus’s safe arrival from Corinth brought Paul joy and comfort.
Many Church members and residents of a retirement village can know distress and discouragement. Sometimes it is a result of the forgetfulness and lack of care from their families or from other residents or staff. But their minds have no rest, their spirits are depressed, and they find conflict wears them down. The coming of a Pastoral Care minister or chaplain at the door, like the unexpected arrival of Titus, brings them comfort. That ministry, like that of Paul, can be augmented by the training of others to be Pastoral Care Team members. In my ministry I have insisted that in every hospital, prison, retirement Village, School or other centre of ministry, the Chaplain or a Pastoral Care minister in the Church builds a Pastoral care team to care for the needs of people.
While writing this, I rang a close friend who is one of the best Chaplains and Pastoral Care ministers I know. We trained together fifty years ago, worked together in evangelism and mission, and for the last twenty years, Rev Ian Richer has been Chaplain to the mines of the Hunter, both deep long wall underground mines and the huge open cut mines. He has been on hand for every accident, every tragedy in the mines, has been in the homes of those hurt, in the hospital of those crushed and injured, has buried the dead, and stayed in the homes of the grieving, he is the marriage counselor, celebrant, and carer for many mining communities and the first person people turn to. He is the chief burden bearer on the Hunter mines.
When Titus brought comfort to Paul, how much this comfort meant to him can be seen in that in this Epistle, 2 Corinthians 1-9 paraklesis “comfort” occurs nine times and its verbal form parakaleo, “comfort” eight times.
Christian leaders have always known the essential nature of bringing comfort to people. John Wesley encouraged every believer to join in a class meeting. He saw the class meeting as the cornerstone of the whole edifice of the young Methodist Church. The classes were in effect house churches, not classes for instruction, as the term `class’ might suggest.
These groups met in the various neighbourhoods where people lived. The class leaders could be men or women. They were effectively pastors, chaplains and disciplers. The class system, introduced in London in 1742, became the world-wide Methodist pattern.
The duties of the class leader as given by Wesley were twofold: to see each person in the class once a week at the least, in order to inquire how their souls prosper; to advise, reprove, comfort, or exhort, as occasion may require; and to receive what they would give toward the relief of the poor. I know of no better job description of a Chaplain in a Retirement Village or a Pastoral Care minister in the Church. But the Chaplain/Pastoral Care Minister has an even more significant role.
3. THE CHAPLAIN/ PASTORAL CARE MINISTER MINISTERS FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The Chaplain is to be the chief comforter among the village residents. “Comforter” was also the name given to the Holy Spirit by Jesus. The Holy Spirit was described by Jesus as our always available comforter. The comforter was first seen as Jesus’ representative after his death (John 14:16) and His successor in His teaching role (14:26), of witnessing (15:26) and of convincing or convicting the world (16:7).
The word “comforter” can be translated as “Helper”; “Counselor”; “Advocate.” The background of the Greek term lies in the law court where the Paraklete helped someone. The Holy Spirit is another “Helper” alongside Jesus for the believer. As Jesus helped disciples during His earthly ministry, so the Spirit helps them after the ascension as they face a hostile world. Jesus promised that when He left this earth He would send a helper, a comforter, to be with us to strengthen us. The Latin “cum fortis” means “with strength”. The Holy Spirit comes alongside of us to comfort us with strength.
Bible translators of the Miao Hill tribe in Western China could not find an equivalent word for Comforter. Then one of the missionary translators heard a local man say he was going to visit a woman whose son had died in order to “get her heart round the corner”. Instantly the missionary translator knew he had the word for the work of the Holy Spirit: “The Comforter – one who comes to you and gets your heart around the corner.” The Holy Spirit convicts, converts and comforts the believer. The Chaplain is the person on staff in a village or minister in the church who can help you, when you are faced with great difficulties to get your heart around the corner. The Chaplain is the embodiment of the Holy Spirit coming to each resident to convict, convert and comfort.
The New Testament meaning of “comfort,” is “to come alongside with strength.” So in the Old Testament, “Comfort ye my people” Isaiah 40:1 means not only to give the power of calm endurance of affliction, but also the brightest hopes of the future and the gifts of Divine grace. This would be the result of an attentive Chaplain or minister: the people would receive the power of calm endurance of affliction, the brightest hopes of the future, the gifts of Divine grace, and be as the Holy Spirit the presence of the Living Christ with the person upon whom the Chaplain has called.
“Comfort my people” said the Lord. That is the primary task of the chaplain/ pastoral care minister. May you fulfil it well.