Impressions of the Spiritual Care Series – what it is actually like running one
Updated: Jan 19
‘The course was excellent and relevant and I learnt a lot for myself and about myself, as well as being able to use it when reaching out to older people.’
‘So wrote one of the participants attending the Spiritual Care Series which we ran at our church last term’, explains Anna Chaplaincy network member Catriona Foster.
Her comments are based on her experience of running the course in Harborne, Birmingham. Catriona writes below about the process of running the course and the feelings of all who attended this eight-session course, available through BRF.
I invited 15 volunteers to take part, all involved in some way with pastoral ministry among older people such as visiting, speaking at our midweek service, leading a small group, ministry in care homes, etc. Two men and 13 women took part, with ages ranging from their 60s–80s.
The course material is substantial. Topics covered include: understanding the ageing process; spirituality in ageing; good communication; the power of storytelling; dementia; a new home and a new way of life; grief, loss, death and dying; roles, boundaries and self-care.
Participants receive a large workbook with detailed and varied content on each of the eight topics and space to record notes. This workbook is a useful tool to refer back to in ongoing ministry. There are three or four videos to watch each session (the eight ‘sessions’ are referred to as ‘episodes’). The videos are excellent and some of us particularly enjoyed the silhouette animations which were profound and moving.
The videos are interspersed with valuable discussion times – sometimes in small groups or pairs, and sometimes as a whole group. As the facilitator listening in on some of the discussions, I was struck by the wealth of insight and experience in the room and also by the openness of the participants in the way they shared deeply and honestly with each other. I loved the buzz of those discussion times and I also felt highly privileged to lead a team of such special people. No wonder the older people feel blessed!
At the start of each episode, there is a biblical reflection – this was an excellent way-in to the topic of the day. Of these reflections, one participant wrote,
‘I really appreciated the Bible studies at the beginning – they helped ground everything and pinpoint the real reason for caring spiritually.’
At home, participants are required to watch the videos again and answer a short quiz on each one. There is also prereading to do before the next episode.
The variety of formats – biblical reflection, video, small group discussion, whole group discussion and personal reflection time – was greatly appreciated. This helped us cope with what was quite an intense two-and-a-half-hour session each time. Every episode was enjoyable and every episode was tiring!
Participants sat in small groups of three or four around tables. Water jugs and a supply of mints were on the tables each week, and we would have a short break for tea and cake at a suitable point, although I noticed that small group discussions regularly continued on during the break time.
Initial apprehension on my part due to the amount of time involved in preparing and running such a course was quickly replaced by a strong sense that this truly was a worthwhile investment of time, energy and money. It was ultimately an investment in people. It served to both equip and inspire.
Many found that the content and format of the course were such that they were helped and encouraged in terms of their own ageing journey as well as learning new aspects of ministering to older people and rethinking things they already knew or had experienced.
One key thing to note is that as the course progressed, most of us found ourselves applying some of the teachings whenever we were with people, for example, the challenge to listen well and not try to fix everything stayed in our minds and impacted our interactions. At the end of the day, what’s the point of learning if it doesn’t make a difference to behaviour?
Feedback from the end of the course tells its own story:
‘An excellent course.’ ‘Very enjoyable and a huge blessing.’ ‘Stimulating, interesting and extremely helpful.’ ‘I have really enjoyed being part of it… all in all a great course.’ ‘Praise the Lord for how significant the course has been for me.’ ‘Both informative and encouraging.’ ‘The nuggets of advice that emerged were helpful and challenging and will stay with me.’
Where do we go from here? Well, by our final episode, there was a sense among the group that they would value ongoing opportunities to be together in a similar way, and so I am considering termly meet-ups so that this group can continue to encourage and learn from one another. Following the pattern of the Spiritual Care Series, we will use both small group discussions and whole group discussions to share experiences, joys and struggles, and to pray and support each other.
Course facilitators need to be aware that running the series will involve a big commitment of time and energy. The series also demands a lot from the participants – commitment to attend the sessions and to complete ‘homework’ each time, as well as sharing with others in the group. However, I hope you will gather from this blog that it is time well spent.
We completed the eight episodes in the autumn term September—December. A few of our sessions were only a week apart though most were a fortnight apart. We preferred having two weeks between each episode because this gave us more time to review the previous episode’s videos and complete the prereading for the next episode.
Each episode is full-on, with a lot of material to get through, and the facilitator needs to plan the timings of things carefully and be disciplined to keep moving things on in order to get through everything. In planning, you can choose to omit certain bits that you feel are less relevant to your situation, so it is good to be flexible in your use of the material.
The Spiritual Care Series did more than provide valuable insight and teaching on the eight important topics. It drew us together in a special way as vulnerabilities and failures were shared alongside memories and experiences, all within the context of a common purpose and bond of fellowship.
For some, the effects went deep, transforming thinking and giving fresh direction. I will leave the last word to one of the participants:
‘All of the areas of the course affected my attitude to ageing and older people. It took away fear… the Lord gave me hope and possibility for the future, along with direction and the emphasis on love. Somehow it restored my sense of purpose.’
Written by Catriona Foster.