Who is this group for?
There are about 6 million “carers” in the UK, offering regular and sustained care to a disabled, ill or elderly person. Then there are those whose caring feels less structured or constant – they look after a neighbour, a member of the family, a friend, but occasionally and as the need arises. Each church too has people who have taken other church members under their wing as well as those who have been particularly tasked with the pastoral care of its members. All these will find sharing in this group beneficial and supportive as will many who are in one of the caring professions.
Many of those receiving this kind of care will be elderly. The majority of people these days, and increasingly, will be involved in the support of their aging parents, even if at a distance. But we are also often called upon, sometimes for a comparatively short period, to take care of a relative going through a time of illness or recovery from surgery.
This study programme offers churches material that can be part of the pastoral support provided by the congregation to those in these kinds of situation. The topic is approached from the standpoint of faith as evidenced by the biblical study that lies at the heart of each session and the important suggestions about praying for each other. But the challenge of being a carer is not unique to committed Christians – it is also felt by those on the fringes of church life or completely outside it. The incorporation of material from secular as well as religious sources, as well as its practical approach, makes this suitable material for a group to which might be invited those who would not normally see a church group as their cup of tea.
People receiving care are of many different kinds. Some for example may be virtually incapable of communication or too ill to be bothered with it whilst others may relish a long conversation to relieve the boredom. So the material will be not equally applicable to every situation. Similarly the circumstances of each person doing the caring are different. For some, especially full-time carers, a sudden emergency or sheer exhaustion may make attendance at one or more of the sessions impossible. This is perfectly appropriate and group members will no doubt both understand this and keep the absentee in touch.
How is it organised?
There are ten sessions that can be held with a regularity that suits each individual group. It’s best if every member of the group can attend every meeting so their frequency should be realistic. A copy of the book can be obtained from the publisher but everything in the book and more can be found on this website. Sessions need to be long enough to allow good discussion and so I recommend about two hours (see below). The sessions are designed for small groups of four to six people. Groups that are larger than this may well find that the discussions take longer. You could divide into smaller groups for some of the discussion sessions or extend the length of the series of meetings and spread the material for each session over more than one meeting.
The main sections of the various sessions are each followed by a time for conversation based on suggested questions. The main sections are:
A passage from a book by a carer or person being cared for
A biblical reflection
Information about a theory which will inform our caring
In the planning, the leader should proportion the time between the various sections as they think fit. Some flexibility in timing is needed with a balance being struck between the need to continue valuable conversation to an appropriate finishing point and the requirements of the overall balance of the session. But about 30 minutes for each period of discussion would be about right if it‘s a two hour session. The group will feel more secure if they know time boundaries are being maintained.
There’s also a time at the beginning of each session for opening prayers and gathering. In the first session the Gathering time will be considerably longer than in the others and the group needs to have the discussion about confidentiality (see below) but there is no Learning section on that occasion.
The leader will be responsible for leading the prayers and guiding the discussions. A fuller description of the leader’s role is available here. It’s important that members of the group are seated comfortably in a position where they can all see each other.
Ground rules and confidentiality
It will be important to establish at the beginning some ground rules about how discussion should be conducted and what levels of confidentiality should be maintained. There are some suggestions here.
Each session has the following ingredients (more info about each below):
Opening reflection: the group listens to a well-known song and says together a short prayer based on it.
Gathering time: a short time of sharing to allow people to settle.
Exploring: the group reads something written by a carer or someone being cared for (for example, Sheila Cassidy, Mary Craig, Ken Wilbur, Grace Sheppard, Frances Young) and discusses it, using some suggested questions
Reflecting: the group listens to, or reads, a comment by the author based on something Jesus said or did related to the week’s theme and looks at some questions based on it.
Learning: the group discovers and discusses the insights related to the session’s topic of a thinker (e.g. Buber, Brother Lawrence, Pelagius), psychologist (e.g. Carl Rogers, Myers and Briggs) or poet (e.g. Keats).
Prayer: a structure is offered for prayer for members of the group and those they care for or a time of free prayer may be preferred.
A version of the song suggested for listening to as part of the opening reflection in this session is available to download here. It is attractively and clearly sung by the publisher’s musicians. To cover copyright costs, they are charging 59p per track or £2.99 for the tracks for all the sessions.
During the gathering, each person is invited to give their name and other information which varies from session to session. After the first couple of sessions, giving your name will cease to be necessary as pure information. Some of the group will have come from a busy or stressful day –saying your name firmly and strongly is a way of saying to yourself and the group: whatever I have been doing today, now I am here! The other information (e.g. a hobby you have or something good that’s happened this week) is included as a way of asserting the existence of life outside caring.
You can listen here to the author reading his comments on the biblical passage to be discussed in each session. Following this link brings you to the first talk and links on the right of the page to subsequent ones.
The questions following the biblical Reflection and in the Exploring section are intended to guide but not predetermine the conversation. Other topics may emerge. The leader should be sensitive to what the group seems to want to discuss as well as the suggested questions. There’s absolutely no requirement to “get through” all the questions.
The suggestions for prayer at the beginning of each session and near the end offer a clear structure. This will make it easier for those who may not be used to praying. But some groups will be very comfortable with times of open prayer to which group members freely contribute. If this is preferred, the suggested material can be scrapped or become only part of the time set aside for prayer.
I’ve suggested a time in which group members can pray for those they care for. Going round the group in the order in which they are seated in the circle, each person mentions a name and this is followed by silence for everyone to pray for that person. Going round the circle prevents the insecurity of not knowing who is next to speak and it is assumed that everyone will want to offer a name. The silence should be long enough for the person mentioned to be concentrated on by the group before the next person speaks. It may be sensible to have some discussion about this both before and after the first time the method is used.
The questions attached to this section are sometimes of a more personal nature than the others and in some sessions, if the group feels comfortable with it, they could be discussed in pairs or threes.
Preparation for the next session
The Learning section in each session introduces a theory relevant to caring. It might be helpful and interesting for members of the group to explore this in advance by reading the relevant page on this website.
It would be helpful after a couple of sessions for the leader to introduce a review of how the sessions have gone. This will be the chance for the group to indicate any improvements they would like to suggest.
At the end of the last group, there should be discussion about how the relationships that have developed and the information that has been learnt may be carried forward.
There may be times during the course when major crises occur in the lives of those being cared for by group members. If one of them dies or suffers a serious deterioration or accident, this will affect not just their carer but every member of the group. In such a situation, the group would probably need to break from using the material published here to allow time for mutual support or to adapt sessions accordingly.