With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Several readers responded to last month’s “Pressure Points,” which is online at http:reporter.lcms.org/?19421. The first response below is from the anonymous writer who asked the question that began the discussion in the December column.
R: I swallowed hard. I was encouraged by your encouragement. I had my first session with a pastoral counselor. It went well. I have more sessions scheduled. I know I need help, yet I continue to be afraid. Thank you for your encouragement to seek the help I need. As I [wrote last month], sometimes you give good advice.
Please credit God’s Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts, and the presence of Christ, who walks alongside us. That is what provides the strength and resilience to move forward — even into situations and experiences that produce anxiety — with the hope that those experiences may be helpful and healthful. I encourage you to continue moving on with this.
I understand that the counseling services offered through the Concordia Health Plan (CHP) are underutilized — that fewer CHP members are using these services than those of similar plans. I read this to mean that we are not necessarily going through fewer issues where counseling could be helpful, but rather that we as a group may be more reluctant to access those services.
The CIGNA Behavioral Health network, as part of the CHP, has a directory that includes, along with others, pastoral counselors who are members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (www.aapc.org). These are among the best-trained folks in the field — counselors who also are sensitive to religious and spiritual issues.
Because of the nature of ministry in the 21st century and because church workers need to be involved in active spiritual care, we all could use constructive opportunities for safe conversations with others concerning their lives and relationships.
R: I faced some of the same quandaries [as] the person … in your last column. However, my issue was alcoholism. I finally got help and now [am involved in] counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous. I go to group several times a week. Why I took so long to get help, I’ll never know. [But] there is a hole in my recovery. Do you know of any other clergy who have faced addictions? I long to talk to them.
Check out the Fellowship of Recovering Lutheran Clergy (www.frlc.org). This is a 12-Step group where total anonymity is maintained and an electronic group meeting is held weekly. Another reader recommended this if alcohol use was in play. While I am not in recovery myself (except to the significant extent that I grew up in an alcoholic family), I have some positive knowledge of the FRLC and its work.
R: I am a Lutheran teacher and … sometimes feel alienated (not quite as desperately bad as [last month’s writer]). Your first response [to last month’s writer] was to acknowledge God’s love toward him/her — really all [of] us readers — through our baptism. Fantastic! You spoke like [you were] preaching a sermon [on] love. We all need to hear and remember our family relationship with God through baptism.
When I struggle, I am more likely to turn inward, and even in that turning inward engage only in a one-on-one conversation with God. I am, though, placed into a community in my baptism, and it is (or should be) to the community that I also turn for support. When the community of the body of Christ does not seem receptive or safe, there is a real problem for any of us. Somewhere in that community, though, I believe there are safe places and the necessary support and care.
R: I really felt for your reader. As a leader of our congregation, I wondered if there was any help for us in [terms of] a place where one of our workers could come forward to get the help she or he needs.
Thanks for that prompt. I think my new book, Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand: Supporting Church Workers (CPH), could be useful.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is associate dean of Ministerial Formation and director of the M.Div. and Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Dec. 20, 2011