When my life was somewhat simpler, I used to collect and frame engravings and etchings as somewhat of a hobby. In fact, I am one of the few persons you know who could, legitimately and not euphemistically, invite you up to “see my etchings”. One in particular is important to me. It is an etching of Telegraph Hill in my home town of San Francisco, and that etching, which hangs in my living room, has a story behind it. It is a story of a favor asked, gratitude expressed, and learning gained.
I really did not have a clue what pastoral counseling was all about (and I’ll beat to the punch those of you who will still say that I don’t have a clue) when my good friend John Gallagher telephoned me back in about 1981 with a personal request. “We are starting this organization called the California Counseling Center,” he said, “and I need someone for the board. Since you used to work for the Bishop and everyone knows you” (John, you see, was a master of the butter-up technique) “maybe you could be on the board.” Three years later I was chair of one of its committees, and five years later, I was president of the board. Sound familiar?
I learned. Boy, did I learn! I learned what a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor was. I learned the difference between psychiatry and pastoral psychotherapy. I learned something about the particular counseling needs of women who had been raped, and I put that learning to good use when one of my parishioners was the victim of sexual assault. (In that case, I also put to use my conviction that criminals should go to jail for very long periods, by testifying against the parolee who had attacked my friend, but that’s another story…)
I also learned that when I am sitting in my office, facing an incredibly thorny pastoral problem, fraught with emotional and psychological baggage, I do not have to “go it alone”. There are others out there who have training I lack, and they stand at the ready, prepared to take over when my own modest pastoral skills reach their limits. The insurance companies tell us that those limits probably come into place after about two sessions, and they may be right. In any event, I have learned to rely upon pastoral counselors as an extension of my ministry. And, in the process, I learned and experienced something I like to call a “community of ministry”. I stand in a pastoral and collegial connection with others who can help me with the pastoral ministry with which I am charged as the rector of a parish. For this community I am deeply grateful.
Last night, I went into the living room to turn out the lights and saw the little engraving over the lighted vitrine showing me Telegraph Hill back home in San Francisco. I paused a moment to be grateful to John who gave me the engraving when I left San Francisco to move to New York, but I paused to be grateful for much more than just a tasteful picture. I am grateful for a window opened in my ministry.
The Rev’d Lloyd Prator, rector of St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church in Greenwich Village, New York City, is former President of the Board of Trustees of the Psychotherapy & Spirituality Institute.