West Point Grey United Church
May 26, 2024

Just Listen, and Hear Me

Matthew 22:36-40/John 13:34-35/Matthew 25:35-40

Today we are having a service which focuses on the ministry of pastoral care.  I have wanted to do this for such a long time.  Today is extra special because we are also celebrating a dedicated group of people who have spent many hours learning and practicing the art of compassionate listening because they wanted to be able to effectively support members of our church community.  I am so pleased to have been part of this whole experience.

But first things first.  Pastoral Care is a phrase that is unique to the Christian church tradition.  It refers to the ministry of providing spiritual guidance, emotional comfort, and practical help, as needed.   It is about walking alongside someone offering support in whatever form is helpful.  It recognizes the importance of peoples’ emotional and spiritual well-being as well as their physical health.

The roots of the term pastoral care can be traced back to the early Christian church.  The term ‘pastoral’ comes from the Latin word ‘pastor’ which translates to ‘shepherd’.  It’s a good image.  Just like good shepherds caring for their flocks of sheep, pastoral care involves looking after the well-being of others in our community and beyond.

Today’s scripture readings have been my inspiration and guiding light since I first  became involved in the ministry of pastoral care here at WPG.  The first reading, from Matthew, tells us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and also to love ourselves and our neighbors – which really includes anyone and everyone we meet. The second reading, from John, tells us to love one another – just as much as Jesus loved his disciples; and that we will become known for this loving of one another.

The third reading outlines some specific ways of caring for one another – offering food and something to drink, providing clothes and medical assistance, welcoming strangers and visiting the lonely or troubled.  This means accepting, honoring and forgiving even those (or maybe especially those) who are different or difficult.  And, the scriptures say that in caring for people physically, emotionally and spiritually, we are meeting Jesus every time. This passage, and in particular the last line, “just as you did it for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me” inspired a very profound working definition of pastoral care and it is this –  “Pastoral Care is meeting Jesus and finding God”.  Every time we are kind, and supportive and compassionate to another person, we are encountering God. This is pretty powerful, isn’t it.

Life can be challenging.  There are times when we all feel lost, confused, or burdened. During such times, it can be immensely comforting to have someone who listens to us attentively, who values and clarifies and affirms what we say and especially, what we feel, and helps us find our way.  This kind of pastoral connection reassures us that we don’t have to face life’s challenges alone.

I would like to read you a poem that has been part of my life and my teaching for over thirty years.  If you listen carefully, you might come to understand why walking alongside someone, while listening compassionately and helpfully, is not as easy as we might think.


When I ask you to listen to me, and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me

why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are discounting my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me and you think you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Perhaps that is why prayer works for some people, because God is silent and doesn’t try to offer advice or fix things.

God simply listens and trusts you to work things out for yourself.

So please, just listen and hear me.  And if you want to talk, wait a few minutes for your turn and I promise, I will listen to you.

This kind of pastoral or compassionate listening is not the same as everyday listening – although it could be!  Here’s the thing – effective listening is not just about hearing words.  It’s about hearing both the  facts and feelings as stated, but also sensing and gaining understanding of the emotions behind the words.  It’s about recognizing when someone is sad or troubled or anxious or lost, even when they are smiling and saying that they are ‘fine’.

At the same time, it is not about providing answers or advice or calming reassurance. Listeners who are skilled and practiced in compassionate listening provide empathy and support while they help others find their own answers and their own path.  Listeners can also make connections with others in the community who provide useful information and resources.

This kind of listening accompaniment does not come naturally to most of us.  Because we care for people and want them to feel better, we often share our own experiences and solutions.  But our path is not someone else’s path.  There are skills and tools to help us become better at walking beside someone instead of leading or pushing them onto a path of our choosing.  When people find their own answers they grow in confidence and competence.  They become empowered. This is what we have been learning and practicing during our Intercultural Compassionate Listening Course.

I believe West Point Grey does pastoral care very well.   Every Sunday I see positive examples of welcome, inclusion, supporting and listening.  I know there are also cards written and visits made because I have received some.  This is all good because pastoral care is not a ministry of one individual or even one committee.  It is the ministry of all of us, part of everything we do in this building  – and everywhere else, really.  It is a way of living and being that we learn from the scripture passages we started with  —

Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.

Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me.

Following Jesus, and Finding God.                         May it always be so.

And now, to continue this reflection, we are going to hear from three of the learners in the Intercultural Compassionate Listening Course as they share with you some aspect of this quite different learning experience.