Well-considered and honestly written, Pastoral Care is packed full of engaging anecdotes, useful bits of advice and wise perspective. Peppered with quotations from the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Julian of Norwich and even The Wizard of Oz, this book will most certainly speak to more than just those working in ministry.
Merrington explores pastoral care as broad ranging and ongoing; from the kind of everyday care that starts with conversations over a cup of coffee right up to dealing with issues such as eating disorders and drink and drug problems, pastoral care is not (unlike therapy) reliant on affordability and may be required before, during or after other counselling has been explored. Throughout the book, Merrington refers to knowing ones own capabilities and boundaries as a carer - knowing what level you are able to work at and when to refer to other counselling bodies, how to recognise when you're heading for burnout (a discussion on 'Jesus Syndrome'), as well as recognising inappropriate uses of power and authority.
Prayer is arguably one of the key things that distinguishes pastoral care from other types of counselling and Merrington provides some interesting perspectives on how prayer should be utilised. It should not be a substitute for applying practical support, knowledge and skills, but a gift that offers a new and important dimension to care - noting how taking time to reflect on something bigger (God) can refresh, strengthen and allow for new perspectives and new insights. As Merrington points out 'Prayer is far more than getting God to do a miracle.'
While this book is ultimately aimed at those involved in Church life, those involved general counselling/caring as well as community and youth groups, would benefit from the fresh perspective and accessible, non-preachy tone that Pastoral Care has to offer. Those struggling with issues of anxiety, self-esteem, forgiveness, as well as disenfranchised grief (where loss can not be openly acknowledged or publically mourned) or even 'singleness'- of being single within a (church) community would find this a useful alternative to the many books on offer within the self-help genre- many of which may not live up to their dazzling titles and may lack the honesty and wisdom of a book such as this.
Whether you dip into relevant chapters or read this from cover to cover, this is a priceless companion that deserves frequent referral.
Bill Merrington has been an Anglican Priest for over 29 years and is currently the Lead Chaplain at Bournemouth University.
Pastoral Care was published at the end of 2012 and is available to purchase from all good Christian Bookshops or direct from the KM website