Multifaith Project

{Section A} Discovering the Faith Perspective of Others

Sharing about pastoral care
During the first session people were invited to share their perceptions about the nature of pastoral care. Each described how care was provided from the perspective of their faith tradition. It became apparent that the term “pastoral care” was seen as having a Christian origin, and at first it seemed that other traditions did not have the same emphasis on ‘being pastoral’. ‘Pastoral’ is a concept that emerged from the idea of the shepherd caring for the flock. After further discussion there was the recognition that within each tradition caring activities occur than can be described as ‘pastoral’.

However, each tradition identified particular religious rituals that were important at times of crisis, such as at the time of death. In Muslim communities the term “pastoral care” is not used. Visiting the sick is highly recommended but it is provided by families rather than by the Muslim religious organisation. Similarly the Hindu relies on families to visit rather than a specifically religious figure. As one Jewish participant commented, “Family look after family”.

‘The Family’ as the origin of pastoral care
It became clear that there was a distinction emerging between rituals of religion and the provision of pastoral care. While particular religious activities were important in times of crisis, and the spiritual understandings were often given perspective through a religion, it was family and cultural groups who tended to provide what may be described as “pastoral care”. This affirmed ‘the family’ as the origin of pastoral care as presented in the Philosophy.

In Australia, with the increased isolation experienced in our society, particularly when crisis occurs in an institution such as a hospital, there has been a growing emphasis on the need for pastoral care. An older member of the training group, born in Australia, reminisced that in contrast to the isolating nature of our current society, urban community in the 1940’s was communal with neighbours personally knowing and caring for each other. This family and community care was still occurring within particular ethnic groups, but increasingly more of the population can experience isolation. The concept of pastoral care within an institutional context is comparatively recent, and has become recognised and used in the secular context. The term “pastoral care” comes from a predominantly Christian perspective, but it was obvious from the responses with this group that the concept and need is consistent with the other faith traditions.

Sharing about faith traditions
It was during the third and fourth weeks that members shared about their own faith tradition. They had been asked not only to briefly outline their religious tradition, but also to nominate some saints and heroes within it and to share about what their tradition has provided for them. This was an opportunity to share about their own faith tradition and to understand better other traditions. More importantly it brought a sharing together about what is basically important for each member as a person. As one group member said, “There is such similarity in different words.” Another, “There was excitement today in how much we have learnt at depth from each other.” And at the end of the course it was said, “In contrast to the past, I can now relate easier to people of other faiths“.

While there were many common aspects that could be recognised between the traditions, the diversity of understandings also stood out. For brevity in this report a couple of aspects are noted. For example, while the Jewish, Christian and Moslem traditions have emerged from a common source with Abraham, each view their own distinct dogma and rituals as essentially the revealed truth. In contrast, the Buddhist and Hindu traditions focus on the journey of the individual towards a divine reality. For them there are various deities and processes which can assist them discover truth in that journey.

What emerged from this sharing was a greater awareness and understanding of the background of people of other traditions. At the same time, it was said that “In the course there has been an experience of inclusiveness and community with understanding so as to not preclude the opportunity to share with people of other faith traditions.

Cultural Differences
Cultural differences were also identified as an area that required sensitivity in developing relationships. Even within faith traditions there can be a variety of cultural differences between different countries. In the exercises for developing listening skills for pastoral care, there was a realisation of the need for sensitivity to different cultural and religious expectations, such as relationship between the opposite sexes, and appropriate eye contact or touch. For example, Western culture values eye contact, while Eastern or Asian cultures minimize eye contact.

{Section B} A Philosophy of Pastoral Care [Four Parts]

{Section B:1} “Intentional Friendship” A Philosophy Developed by David Oliphant

In Australia, chaplaincy and pastoral care has traditionally been an initiative within individual Christian denominations seeking to keep in touch with members of their own church or group within hospitals, nursing homes, jails and schools. It is now becoming a professional caring modality in its own right, apart from but including churches and religious organizations, working in both stipendiary and voluntary capacities in the general life of the community. It is gaining a unique place within our secular society alongside other caring modalities such as social work, community work, and general counselling, specifically to help ‘meet the religious, spiritual, emotional and pastoral needs’ of the general community

The general community however is no longer largely Christian. It is multicultural and multifaith within a broadly secular society. This is the context within which modern pastoral care in the community is seeking to establish itself as a profession in its own right. There is a growing recognition that to be fully accepted as a caring modality within the broader community, and to be in the position to be supported by Government and funding bodies generally, the profession of pastoral care needs a theoretical base that is inclusive of our different traditions, including secularity and atheism.

Some would say such a theory of multifaith pastoral care is inevitable, even desirable and necessary, if the profession is to fully complete the transition it is in and take its place in society alongside other caring modalities.

This then is the challenge my thesis is addressing. How can people from different faith and spiritual backgrounds, admittedly united in a commitment to care for others emotionally, spiritually and religiously, work and train together in paid and volunteer capacities as the ‘profession’ of pastoral care and chaplaincy?Able to accommodate and include the various empirical traditions.

My thesis is that such a challenge cannot be met without a common philosophical basis that makes clear the nature of pastoral care and its relationship to human nature and community, and is able to accommodate and include the various empirical traditions that make up our multifaith and secular Australian society.

Intentional Friendship, A Philosophy of Pastoral Care, seeks to fulfill this theoretical need. The framework offered also lays the foundation for a reframing of the most widely used training method for chaplaincy and pastoral care, Clinical Pastoral Education.

{Section C} The Uniqueness of Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care initiates contact and conversation, operating in the normal contexts of people’s lives.

The Pilot Training Program focused on the unique character of pastoral care as distinct to other caring modalities, such as counselling, psychotherapy, social work, welfare and community work. In other caring modalities, personal connection is for the sake of impersonal and professional assessment and treatment. Pastoral care is the only caring modality in which personal connection is the prime goal of interaction. Hence the naming of pastoral care as intentional friendship.

Nowhere is this illustrated better than in the question of self disclosure by the carer. Because the nature of friendship is the mutual self disclosure of each person, pastoral care includes the skill by the carer of appropriately revealing him or herself as a person in the pastoral conversation. Other modalities have an intersubjective relationship that is not mutual and reciprocal carers does not ‘give themselves away’ as equals in the relationship, and the interaction is not ‘free’, in that the conversation is for a particular purpose and not an interaction for its own sake out of which important issues for the patient might arise. The fundamental premise of primary friendship is that the self revelation is not egocentric but is offered with an in the interest of the other person. It is that offer of friendship which then becomes valuable when the other person is interested to receive it.

An effective pastoral carer is an expert ‘non expert’. The conversations he or she initiates are between two or more free and equal persons where there is no necessary assumption of ‘expertise’ as there is with a counsellor or therapist. It requires high levels of interpersonal skill focused in the free and equal relationship of friendship in which the carers intentions are formed in the interest of the patient or person, undergirded by a general motive of love and care.

{Section D} Pastoral Skill Building Activities

Participants were involved in skill awareness activities as the course progressed.

  • Exercises that focused on the skills of listening and responding to another person.

Issues that emerged with multi-faith and multi-cultural activities:

  • There are cultural variations as to what is the appropriate eye contact. Western cultures value strong eye contact, while Asian defer away in eye contact.
  • There are difficulties encountered about an appropriate manner for male / female contacts with people of some cultural backgrounds.
  • Exercises that addressed the skills of being empathic. This drew a distinction between the motive and intention of communicative action, and highlighted an understanding of the inner life as something constructed over time by mirroring, twin-shipping, idealizing and adversarial relationships that become self-object relationships within the person.
  • An exercise that used the psychodrama techniques to assist participants practice various skills.
  • A case study that offered an opportunity to reflect as a pastoral carer on the “intention” of another person. Participants were asked to imagine having an interview as a pastoral carer with a self declared atheist, and to seek ways to respond to the person empathically that respected his views but also connected him to any inner and spiritual resources he might have.
  • Use of role plays enabled the participants to test their skills under the observation of the group, and in so doing learn skills and strategies from each other.





Again in evaluation it was recognised that there can be limitations in a situation of female and male with interaction in role plays between Christian and Muslim and Hindu cultures.

A workshop on attention and reflection in action to develop spontaneity.

Here participants sought to focus with concurrent attention on both the other person and the self. When acting to seek to maintain simultaneous focus in care there is a readiness engendered in the carer for spontaneity with regard to the other person.

Finally the process of verbatim reports was introduced as a basic tool for ongoing Clinical Pastoral Education training. Each participant was assigned the task of returning in the final week with a verbatim report of a pastoral care encounter. These were presented and discussed in the final session.

The skill building training in this program is equivalent to the 5 day Introductory Course in Clinical Pastoral Education.

{Section E} Evaluations

A Compilation of Trainees Evaluative Comments on the Pilot Multifaith Training Program
The purpose of this evaluation is to enable participants to reflect on the course generally and to specifically comment on the effectiveness and applicability of the philosophy of pastoral care that was introduced in the pilot program in providing a unifying theory of mulitfaith pastoral care without compromising the content of any particular faith system.

1 What was the most important thing you learnt in the course?

How to approach strangers.
Positive intention to friendship is powerful, and allows even beginners to make mistakes.
A way of being with someone irrespective of differences in culture and belief.
I would like to think that I am becoming more a “hand” person.
Skills in listening and developing intentional friendships.
The commonality in the differences and sensitivities of multifaith and multi-cultural.
Regardless of faith or culture we are people. How similar are our faiths and beliefs; with the same fears, needs and joys.
This course has provided valuable theory that has enhanced previous CPE training.
The value of seeking to “mirror” the other person.

2 How has this course affected your idea of pastoral care?

It was a completely new experience.
Encouraging an open acceptance of other faith traditions.
Redefined my understanding into a positive sense of what “religion” provides.
Increased my awareness of being with another person in a more connected manner.
Realisation that intentional friendship is the friendship that we all need in times of crisis. Needing to be with rather than being for the other person.
Provided insights and understanding about what I am doing in pastoral care.
To be totally present with the other person, regardless of faith traditions.
Strengthened my trust that pastoral care is appropriate for common humanity needs, rather than only from a religious perspective.
Ability to analyse the process of my intentions in relationships as a fellow human being.
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3 What did you enjoy most about the course?

The Interfaith similarities.
Group interaction and especially personal insights from other faiths.
Involvement with participants of other faith backgrounds, and my changing perceptions as we progressively revealed ourselves.
Sharing our stories.
Sharing with others in mutual desire to care, and better understanding their approach from other faith traditions.
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4 How have you grown in this course?

Expanded my horizons
From feedback on how to provide pastoral care.
Value of considering a wider selection of ideas and approaches.
Grown to be more tolerant and more questioning; less likely to assume that I know what is going on for the other person.
Grown more sensitive and effective.
Learnt to find my voice and to have a go.
Through the activity of action, withdrawal and reflection, I have gained in a deeper knowledge of the processes of intentional friendship.
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5 What insights and skills do you feel more aware of since completing the course?

Meeting people where they are.
Seek avoiding theological debates.
Confident to try to alter my habits and use new techniques.
Increased self awareness in approaching others; and staying with what they present.
Reflecting during the conversation and asking myself “What are they meaning?”
How to have language that “mirrors” the other person’s perspective.
A greater awareness of cultural sensitivities.
Ability to “mirror”, which enhances conversations.
More aware of my motives and intention as well of my clients.
Ability to reflect while in conversation.
Listening and effectively following the conversation of others without directing with my answers; helping them to strive for their own answers.
More aware of the moment of connection, the transcendence of “walking in the spirit”, the importance of idealisation in a person’s eye (with heroes and anti-heroes), and how people talk within themselves to “someone”.
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6 How would the course have been more effective in your opinion?

Provision of a course overview or structure.
Provide more practical training.
More interactive work earlier in the course Didactic is valuable but the real learning is in doing.
More role plays with feedback by the group.
More time for sharing and discussions.
Simpler synopsis or breakdown of each paper.
Would you recommend it to others?
Yes (unanimous)
Highly recommended.
Absolutely; I already have!
I feel that it is essential.
Provided a wonderful journey of understanding intentional friendship.
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7 How well so you think you grasped the philosophy of pastoral care presented?

Fairly well.
It took a while through the course before it “clicked”.
I have absorbed the essence of the “head”, “heart” and “hand” trilogy in harmony equals wisdom.
I need more time to reflect and digest.
Especially the “religion” aspect being the Action of Love, Care and Concern; rather then being “dogma”.
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8 Did the philosophy conflict in any way with your personal beliefs or your tradition?

No. (unanimous)
Fairly well.
No conflict. Instead, by addressing the term “religion” this way, it brought down barriers.
By the feedback from others provided more insights.
It enhances a Buddhist perspective.
It worked well for me with a Christian view.
On the contrary, it encouraged, enhanced and acknowledged what I believe.
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9 Do your think the philosophy conflicted with any other group member’s beliefs or tradition?

Seems a new way of approaching something that is inherent in all traditions.
Do you think the philosophy might provide an adequate theoretical base for multifaith pastoral care?
Yes. (unanimous)
It provides a cutting edge to encourage further exploration.
Needs to be published.
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10 Do you have any suggestions on how the philosophy might be more adequately presented?

Raise public awareness.
Simpler language in presentation.
(Also a variety of particular suggestions to address strategies)
Comments relating to General Q 6:
Structure of a syllabus in the course
Needs reduction in didactic intellectual component, so allow more time for practice.
Less volume in reading, and more open discussion and active participation.
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Editorial comments: Duplicate comments are not included in responses to these questions. Occasionally there was editing to clarify or simplify a comment. The evaluation comments about the course presentation and structure has challenged us to re-write aspects in the presentation of the philosophy.