Essay about Church
I have been a Salesian sister for four years after the four-year formation before the first religious profession. The charism and spirituality of the congregation are the Preventive System, which was created and developed by Saint John Bosco, the co-founder. It practices that, through education, the young come to know their rights and duties in both the society and the Church. The preventive system is what we, Salesians, apply in accompanying the young: to meet each individual where they are, to help them choose the better, and to help them discover their vocation in the light of Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. This spirituality was taught when I was a novice, but it has been continuously deepened and adapted as Hae-Jin’s “practical wisdom” over time.
I will have completed and conferred the Master of Divinity this June after four years of part-time education at St. Paul University. This degree means that I am properly trained to be “a pastoral agent in a school, hospital or prison setting, spiritual attendant, catechist, youth development worker, missionary, pastoral associate, youth services worker and community or non-for-profit organization worker.”
Additionally, I have been a full-time high school Christian Education teacher this year. This is the role that I feel most insecure since I have not received proper training in this field. Nonetheless, this has been my main apostolate this year: to teach Christian Education to Grade 8, 10, 11 and 12. I have observed that most students do not have a natural inclination to the subject due to the fact that the subject is not necessary to go to a university, and mostly they find it difficult to see the importance of the subject yet as the guideline of their faith journey. When it comes to Christian Education 11, which is Church History, it gets more serious. The word, History, itself sounds heavy and involves the connotation of lots-to-memorize. Even before the year begins, many students place themselves under a lot of stress with the mere fact that they must take it.
It would be absurd to divide my mixed and complex identity depending on where I go. That is, I am still a religious sister who teaches high school students and has been trained in the field of pastoral ministry. I would like to bring all three (or even more) aspects of my identity and vocation training together wherever I go and whom I minister to. Despite my hope, it is particularly difficult to bring all three aspects of my training, especially a pastoral caregiver role, to the classroom. Therefore, I pose two following questions as the steps to answer the ultimate question: How teaching Church History, assisted by some theories and tools in psychology, can be an exercise in pastoral ministry?
● Can a classroom be a space for pastoral ministry?
● Can teaching be a means of pastoral ministry?
I am a life-long sister and pastoral caregiver/minister at this time, which must not be restrained while teaching in the classroom, which requires me to abide by the curriculum. It does not mean that I can only be a teacher, putting other pieces of training I have received aside. It is a challenging task that I am about to attempt to explore. Yet, it will be extremely helpful for me to affirm my vocation as a teacher, pastoral caregiver, and religious sister, in one without separation. Therefore, I can guide the students who take the course as a subject to pass and are almost obsessed with marks at the end rather than with the contents. My heart aches when students ask me if they could get more marks when they have received 92%.
I interviewed a female high school part-time counselor who began her career in education as a French and Christian Education teacher. She began her training as a personality and human relations educator while she was still teaching in class. In 2016, she decided to completely devote her time and passion to the new but so much different vocation. She is a cradle Catholic, and her faith is a profound element in her being.
She defined the role of pastoral caregiver as a mediator who brings one hand of a person and one hand of God together and helps them hold each other’s hand. Doing so, the mediator needs to help the person be aware of his or her own identity and be comfortable with it and the world around the one. Noticing of no mention on a specific space, I asked her if pastoral ministry could take place in a classroom. She said it would be at a disadvantage because the classroom is in the box of school, where a rigid time frame, content and grading exist. Despite it, a classroom setting offers a great advantage to pastoral ministry: regular access to the young. This is an extremely important and critical to youth ministry, where often those who are ministered to do not see the need of pastoral ministry. This is one of the difficulties that local parishes face: how to gather the young. In school, they are there.
With this layout, I asked her to share her if there was a moment when she felt that she was pastorally teaching the students. She was to substitute a Church History class one day. She was not familiar with the topic of the day, indulgence in the Middle Age. Nonetheless, she was faithful who she was at that time, shared what that meant to her, and was able to have a meaningful discussion. She was certain because she saw something transcendental on the faces of the students. With this sharing, she admitted that the classroom can be where pastoral ministry can happen and teaching can be a means of pastoral ministry in an extended sense.
I also asked her about her tools of approaching students to see their needs, reactions or signs of progress. She, first and foremost, brought the authenticity of herself, truly being herself in front of the students. She also asked the students to do the same while she endeavored to create an environment where both parties could be true to themselves. She also provided many choices that students could choose, personalized projects, individual grades even if it was a group project and monthly seat plan. She noticed that the students felt more connected to each other and to the teacher. She emphasized that the relationship shared together was the key to have a positive atmosphere classroom where meaningful discussion could happen.
She said she was a hard-working teacher who spent the abundant time to prepare lessons with ample activities. Moreover, she was also a flexible teacher as well who introduced activities that could destress students at the end of a heavy week, such as praying with color. She added that she would take the same approach if she goes back to the classroom. The content (according to the curriculum) cannot be ignored, but how it is taught can help the students make meanings out of that time and space whether the meaning the students make is directly or indirectly related to the content delivered.
As the last question, I asked her, with the conversation exchanged with me, if she could share her experience when she taught pastorally. She was pregnant with her first child and had to teach French to 22 students during lunchtime four times a week. It was not a pleasant setting, g to begin with both for her and for the students. However, it turned out to be the best semester ever to her that the relationship between her and the students was the strongest. She paid close attention to their emotional changes and adapted to them very quickly and flexible.
Cole defines a pastoral caregiver is the one who “provides supportive care and brief counseling to people in need.” He adds that ministers are “servants who seek to support and nurture others on behalf of God in Jesus Christ.” The descriptions do overlap with other caregivers do. Nonetheless, Cole suggests two distinctive qualities that are reserved for pastoral caregivers and make what they do pastoral. First, the pastoral caregivers are required to pay “close attention to the human soul,” which “encompasses the whole person in relationship to the living God.” Second, the pastoral caregivers should be able to do “the soul-care” in the “foreground of the Christian story...the story of God’s creative, transformative and redemptive acts throughout history.” He concludes the article with a profound definition of a pastoral caregiver: “a professor, one who professes the Christian faith.”
According to Cole’s explanation on what makes care pastoral and the distinctive responsibilities of caregivers, I believe I fit in that description without any difficulty. Even though I teach Church History, my primary focus is faith formation and growth. In other words, I use teaching to help support and to nurture the students. Doing so, I must be sensitive to their emotional changes in order to adjust the speed of the teaching or even to switch the topic of discussion for while instead of pushing the lesson plan prepared.
To know-how can be further learned from Cahalan and Killen and de Beer. Cahalan explicitly claims that Jesus was a teacher in her book, Introducing the Practice of Ministry. Moreover, she narrates the importance and components of teaching ministry in Chapter 4 and emphasizes it with the quote of Thomas Groome: “the minister[the teachers] to engage life with thoughtful comprehension, to construct an intelligible world for ourselves and to appropriate some measure of meaning and value from it.” Again, this affirms that the classroom can be a place of pastoral ministry and teaching can be a form of pastoral ministry.
Cahalan emphasizes that various means of teaching that Jesus used, such as one-line riddles, allegories, hyperbole, stories, and parables. This helped people understand his teachings on specific lessons. But, it was not all. Jesus also invited them to reflect on them and receive the second or even third insights from his teachings. Parables are the most exemplary to connect people to meaning-making.
Killen and de Beer elucidate that we come to “significant understandings,” which “allow us to choose more freely among options.” The young students are not yet much trained to reflect. They often jump to the action, to memorize, without realizing what they feel or process what they have learned. Thus, the content is delivered to them without “significant insight.” Killen and de Beer also underline that the fruit of this process: “to know better who I am and who I am in relation to God, self and other and the world.”
Another tool that I refer to answer my question is the article from Paul Zak, “The Neuroscience of Trust.” As the person experienced and admitted, trust and relationship are the most fundamental element in the classroom. According to him, project-based learning (PBL) is the best option. A project usually encourages students to look at the question/hypothesis in multi-direction. It is not a straight-forward yes or no question that is given to them. It does induce challenges positively which increase the focus and motivation of students when the goal is attainable. Because PBL provides a certain level of freedom in choosing the recourses, team members and usage of time, it also increases the autonomy of students. Rock also affirms that increased autonomy often produces a health outcome. To acknowledge the good done in public and to help the needy in private also can increase students’ status, fairness, and relatedness.
My question to explore is “How teaching Church History, assisted by some theories and tools in psychology, an be an exercise in pastoral ministry?” It is broken down into two questions. First is, “Can a classroom be a space for pastoral ministry?” and the second is, “Can teaching be a means of pastoral ministry?” Referring to Cole, Cahalan, Killen and de Beer, Zak, and Rock, the answers to both questions are yes. Even with the person interviewed, I could not find any significant reason to say no to two questions. Consequently, the main question asked at the beginning of the paper can be answered yes as well. All the resources I referred underscore the relationship and trust and means to build them. That is, pastoral ministry is almost about how it is practiced. The manner I encounter, teach, interact with students in the classroom is a part of pastoral ministry. It is exactly that manner the students would remember years after when they look back their time in high school.
On the other hand, it does not mean the content/curriculum is insignificant at all. That can be made as interesting as possible using meaning-making method.
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