Pastoral ministers serve the Catholic community in various ways, accompanying people along each step of the journey of faith. A common, essential skill that’s needed for them to be effective in their work is listening.

PHOTO GALLERY: Pastoral Ministers Retreat

“As pastoral minsters, the best gift we can offer to others is a listening heart,” St. Joseph Sister Anne Myers said in her keynote address during a May 3 retreat for pastoral ministers in San Alfonso Retreat House, West End.

“Listening helps people to feel that they are valued. It communicates to them the unconditional love of God,” she said.

The retreat, hosted by the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, drew 104 women and men serving in a wide range of capacities including clergy, pastoral associates, parish catechetical leaders, catechists, liturgical and music ministers, parish business administrators and staff and ministers to the youth, homebound and bereaved.

Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, said the decision to host a retreat for pastoral ministers and focus on listening as a spiritual discipline, was based on knowing that many had participated in the Synod listening sessions as facilitators and knew the importance of listening. In addition to Sister Anne’s presentation, participants also gathered for Mass celebrated by Father Michael McClane, parochial vicar of  St. Dominic Parish, Brick.

“We desire to become more adept at listening to the voice of God,” Ginther said. “Also, we hoped to offer pastoral minsters a time to reflect together on the pastoral skill of listening. All of us want to be better listeners among our family and friends and among those we accompany in ministry.”

Sister Anne, a licensed psychologist, emphasized that spending time in prayer listening to God is essential for pastoral ministers’ personal spirituality and for their work. She also noted the difference between listening and hearing.

“Hearing is an automatic, passive experience while listening is an active process that involves our deliberate choice and involvement. Listening is both a pastoral and spiritual discipline,” she said.

Sister Anne presented six listening skills and had participants practice using them with each other: “Give someone your total attention;” “Allow the speaker to finish their thoughts without interruption;” “Listen without making judgements;” “Ask questions as needed;” “Empathy,” and “Drop the advice.”

As a member of the consolation ministry and a bereavement group facilitator in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, Sue Roggio appreciates what it means to be present and listen to people during a difficult time and allowing them “to tell their stories and to place them in a space with others who completely understand what they are going through.

“I found that the most effective groups are led to share, to bond, to be reminded of God’s love, to pray together and to feel that someone really cares about them,” she said.

Laura Drozd, a bereavement group facilitator and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults coordinator in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, said that “many of the listening skills that Sister Anne highlighted are so vital yet so difficult to practice.” One point that resonated with Drozd was “praying our everyday life experiences.”

“Often we can tell God is at work in very grand moments, or when we cry out to him in desolation,” she said. “But it’s interesting to think that even in the mundane or ordinary, God still speaks to our hearts.”

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