Review: The Caring Congregation

October 2nd, 2011

For Rev. Karen Lampe, congregational care is not just the care of the people in a church. It’s the people of the church providing care. In The Caring Congregation: How to Become One and Why It Matters, Lampe offers a manual for developing a system to meet the needs of sick or grieving members.

Although ministries of support, hospital visitation, and end of life care are often viewed as tasks reserved for clergy, Lampe insists that no one person can care for an entire congregation or community. To be effective, the ministry must be shared among those who have both a heart for providing care and adequate training in how to care.

For Lampe, the basis of care is prayer. By praying, those who wish to offer help amidst trouble step into a different reality than the one immediately visible. Prayer looks beyond the anxiety of the moment and points to the possibility of redemption and restoration. It is a mystic connection with God and, when uttered aloud, a means of comforting those in distress.

Although vital, prayer by itself is not enough for caregivers. They also need a “toolbox” for care that includes the same knowledge and skills that a pastor learns in seminary. Proper training for volunteers enables them to set appropriate boundaries, keep confidentiality, and maintain personal balance while avoiding burnout. Lampe recommends a selection process to ensure that a care team has the proper qualifications and understands the church’s expectations.

Lampe devotes her final chapters to two of the most common situations that require care: hospital visitations and funerals. She offers suggestions for how to approach ministry with the sick and their families, as well as practical advice for walking with people through death, funerals, and the grieving process. Done well, caregiving makes redemption and restoration possible, even in tragic circumstances.

Lampe also includes several appendices that offer specific ideas for care ministry. She defends her emphasis on anointing as a key component of congregational care and offers several scripture passages helpful during times of crisis. The remaining appendices are documents used in the congregational care department at the Church of the Resurrection (where Lampe has served since 2003) to help train and equip volunteers.

The Caring Congregation condenses the basics of pastoral care into a brief, accessible manual. Much of what the author advocates is more applicable in large congregations than in smaller ones, but her principles can be adapted to fit any setting in which volunteers need a starting point for developing a care ministry. The primary value of the book is still for churches with enough staff and volunteers to develop a more systemized approach to care ministry.

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