Why I Am a Lay Pastoral Care Associate

by Pat Hoppe

37 years ago, I was in desperate need of pastoral care.

My husband of 8 years left this area in May 1974 and went back to Michigan after suffering two business failures.

I returned to teaching English at a local high school. My baby was 10 months old and my son was 6 years old.

My friends from school were great; one couple who both taught English with me at Gloucester High offered their home to us while I looked for an apartment. My dad sent me $700.00 to buy a car and begin to pay rent.

My parents and all my relatives lived and still live in Southern Indiana. I had no relatives here and too much pride to talk to any of my co-workers at school. And I knew enough NOT to talk to my son about my emotional confusion, hurt, and torment. He and my daughter needed me to be strong, and I was determined to do that for them.

But the hole in my heart was big. It was a secret hole, one I could not share with anyone. Not even at church.

At that time, I went to a fundamentalist church where the elders were sympathetic, but strict. They said, “Wait for your husband to come back . . . for as long as it takes.” At that time, the leaders of the denomination did not look into the hurt. They simply thought I would “soldier on” and wait for him to come back to the Peninsula. But the pain was too great.

In desperation, I turned to Peninsula Pastoral Counseling Center in Hampton. It took me an hour to get there from my little apartment in Gloucester, and I had to hire a babysitter for my children, but the center had a “sliding scale” payment plan that helped a little with the cost.

Emphasis on the word “little.”

Even the sliding scale really was not help enough, though. Without any money other than my teacher’s paycheck, I was counting pennies to make it to the end of the month. Mom would occasionally slip a $20 bill into a letter to me, but even that was not enough to pay for counseling and a babysitter. And I was too proud to ask for any kind of financial handout.

What I needed then was a person who could listen without judgment, without scorn or instant advice that was not helpful—“be strong,” for instance.

The therapist at Peninsula Pastoral Counseling Center, after the very first session, placed me in a group setting where I became the “mom” figure. This was not helpful for me, and on the way home after the third session, I said to myself: “This is not working. I need someone to talk to, someone who is not in a group.”

What I needed then is who I have become almost 40 years later.

I know what it is to be without: Without family (mine was and still is 700 miles away). Without money (I received no child support the first 10 years of being a single mom). Without church support (the fundamentalists did not allow divorce unless I could prove my husband had been unfaithful). Without a listener to hear and console.

So when people ask me about being a lay pastoral care associate, I tell them that I do this work because there is a need for it. I tell them that I needed a person like me 40 years ago and did not have anywhere to turn.

There are young people in our communities now who have problems that are just as big as mine was. There are young mothers who do not know where to turn.

All of us need a listener at some point in our lives because we all suffer.

And being able to say “I suffer” takes a good bit of courage. That courage needs validation. It needs to be honored with a presence that can truly hear and listen and console. That willingness to suffer with another person is what we three lay people can do when we extend our hands to another person. All we do is listen.

Fred Adair and Martha Elim and I are available through e-mail or phone. My contact information is 757-903-7749, phoppesing@cox.net; Martha’s is 757-645-4256, mwelim@cox.net; and Fred’s is 757-229-7222, fredadair@cox.net.

And our listening is free. It is nonjudgmental. It is confidential. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is an extension of the love that we have for each other as a community. And it is available. NOW. It is only a phone call or an e-mail away.

So this is why I do the work that I do as a lay pastoral counseling associate: to offer help to people, to offer the help I know so many need . . . in a time of darkness, confusion, loneliness, helplessness. Because I felt all of those . . . I was alone and helpless.

If you know of someone who needs a listening ear, please tell that person about this service. It may be good news to someone who needs a bit of comfort.