The Diocese's pastoral care training program can help faithful in various ministries on their walk with others. pixabay photo
The Diocese's pastoral care training program can help faithful in various ministries on their walk with others. pixabay photo

With November being the month of remembrance, the Diocese of Trenton is encouraging those interested in bereavement and similar ministries to attend its pastoral care training program.

Spanning 12 sessions, the program provides participants with the education and formation tools they need to serve in pastoral care ministries more competently and compassionately.

“We are not born with these skills; therefore as missionary disciples, we must make it a priority to take time and work on how well we listen to others, recognizing destructive habits that block and prevent good communication and personal growth,” said Mary Neary, who will present the first of the sessions, which begin in January.

“Listening and hearing are two very different things, and how we … respond to what we hear can cause life or death to another. Therefore, everyone would benefit from the pastoral care program at one time or another in their faith journey,” said Neary, who is a motivational speaker, retreat leader and member of Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton.

Those preparing for any parish pastoral ministry are strongly encouraged to enroll in all 12 sessions of the certificate program.  Among those who could benefit are visitors of the sick, jail and prison volunteers, bereavement ministers, and separated and divorced group leaders.

Session topics include the theology of suffering, pastoral spirituality, the art of holy listening, parish support groups, mental health and disabilities, end-of-life health care ethics, ministry to grieving, self-care for caregivers and more.

“Those who attend not only receive the tools, resources and first-hand training on ‘how to make a visit,’ they come away with a healthy self-knowledge of their own humanness and heed for healing,” Neary said.

The January 2020 start date marks a change for the program, which was initially scheduled to begin in November. The first four sessions previously scheduled for November have been postponed to the spring.

Reflecting on the two-part sessions she will be leading, “Pastoral Presence and The Art of Holy Listening,” Neary said the objectives focus on feelings and emotions and the characteristics and guidelines of communication. Participants will receive tools to sharpen and improve their listening skills through self-knowledge inventory assessment and role-playing exercises, she said.

She will also discuss the pastoral presence of listening and the ministry of silence. Both sessions will incorporate small and large group discussions.

“The ministry of silence allows you to be with someone in their pain without giving much feedback,” Neary said. “Knowing when to interact and when to be silent takes practice and discernment. To be a healing presence is to listen more than we speak; it means to be with people amid human suffering and not try to have all the answers.”

As coordinator of pastoral ministry in Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Beverly, Deacon Gary Schmitt, who completed the Pastoral Care training program in April, said he would recommend it to anyone who serves as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist to the homebound or hospitalized and in parish bereavement ministries.

After noting his appreciation for the instructors “who brought years of experience to be shared with many who willingly volunteer but may not have the full understanding of all the events that can occur when dealing with grieving family members or parishioners,” Deacon Schmitt spoke of the importance of the spiritual aspect of the course “because sometimes we become conditioned to ‘what we think we know’ rather than what the Church teaches concerning death or other social concerns.”

Deacon Schmitt said he has introduced the lessons he has learned from the formal training into the guidance he gives to others who serve in ministry in the parish.