Fourteen years ago, when I entered First Church, I inherited a rich culture of deep listening. One of the first things I noticed as a newcomer was the beautiful quality of listening you offered each other. I asked around, “How did you learn to listen so well in this congregation?” Members replied, “Chalice Circles and Pastoral Care Associates.” Then went on to tell me about how small groups taught them to practice listening without interruption or crosstalk. Since 2002, Chalice Circles (now called Theme Circles) offer space to explore enduring life themes in a small group with attentive listening. If someone had served as a Pastoral Care Associate (PCA), they sang the praises of the training that taught the art and skill of deep listening.
Since 1997, when First Church had around 400 members, PCAs have offered their listening presence to fellow members going through difficult times. For 26 years, our members have accepted care from a PCA when they needed someone outside of their circle of family and friends to simply listen to them talk about their life struggles. It is a rare and special gift to have a good listener, one who is a peer in our spiritual community, yet outside the dynamics of our personal life. Someone who won’t interrupt to say, “Yeah, the same thing happened to me—let me tell you about it!” Someone who waits for our story to unfold and supports us unconditionally.
The rich heritage of good listening at First Church is a rare and beautiful thing. Rev. Jennifer and I encourage you to request and engage in this kind of relationship, which is different from a social visit. We encourage you to accept a phone call or visit from a PCA, because this is how we care for each other in our community. We have 650 members now, so our large church relies on a robust team of lay ministers reaching more people than the reverends possibly could.
Our current team of PCAs is entering their third year of service. They are excellent experienced listeners with a deep bench of life experience. They’ll reach out to you more often this year, when we hear of members who’ve had a death in the family, a health issue, or other significant life transition, so don’t be surprised when they call. You can graciously decline, but we hope you’ll say yes and receive the experience of deep listening that First Church does so well.
Rev. Dena McPhetres, Associate Minister