Out of the Depths: Contours of Spiritual Care in a Wounded World

A Unique Partnership On the Occasion of an Auspicious Anniversary Year

The executive committees of the International Council on Pastoral Care & Counseling (ICPCC) and the European Council on Pastoral Care & Counseling (ECPCC) have been corresponding and meeting since late November with the purpose of collaborating to bring pastoral caregivers and educators together from around the world for a joint congress.  Although ICPCC  has traditionally held its congress on an every-four-year basis (the next ICPCC Congress would normally be held in 2027), the chance to partner with ECPCC seemed to be too good an opportunity pass by. The reflection written below by Hans Schilderman, member of the ECPCC executive committee and a professor of practical and empirical religious studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands, will give readers a provocative glimpse into the aims and objectives of this upcoming joint congress.

“Out of the Depths’ famously refers to the autobiography of Anton Boisen, instigator of the Pastoral Education Movement some one hundred years ago, that has now spread to centres of clinical pastoral education all over the world. At these locations, professionals in pastoral and spiritual care are being trained and coached to explore their inner worlds at the service of their spiritual work with patients and clients at various care and church settings.

Looking Back, Looking Out, and Looking In: Assessing Pastoral Care & Counseling in Light of Its Historic Foundations

“At this centennial, it is good to take stock of the nature of their work. This regards the themes and issues of the patients they address; their counselling methods and techniques; and their training, formation, and supervision practices in pastoral care and education. Like their patients, pastors and health care chaplains live in a ‘wounded world.’ Even though the application and practice of Pastoral Education varies across different global contexts, it remains located in broad pastoral care practices and principles.

“Pastoral care wrestles with the task of addressing existential and religious concerns that come with the wounds that this world inflicts upon them, be it on their communal structures, personal lives, biographies, the groups that they belong to, or on the world that we share. At the conference, spirituality as arguably the center of pastoral care is taken as a searchlight to define the identity of the pastoral education movement. Spirituality is deeply embedded in the interpretation of religious texts and practices that define both individual faith and shared worldviews. Hermeneutics is the discipline in humanities that addresses spiritual sources and interprets these for their significance regarding personal and shared concerns. Among other things, a focus on hermeneutics in pastoral care is a recognition that multiple factors and forces converge on an individual to trigger existential crisis. Hence, these factors need to be interpreted. This ‘hermeneutical’ perspective of existential interpretation – simultaneously addressing both concerns of individual persons and of humankind as such – has been one of the anchors of the pastoral education movement and broader pastoral care. For now, it serves as a scheme to invite you to offer lectures or workshops.”

What follows is the proposed set-up of the conference, meant to offer an initial outline of the conference and hopefully, to serve as a source of engagement as potential attendees and presenter/s anticipate their involvement in the upcoming conference.


What are the challenges that spiritual care now faces in the various CPE and broader pastoral care contexts all over the world? How is the ‘wounded world’ represented in spiritual care and what are the means to address these wounds, at the micro-level of the care relationship, the meso-level of care-settings, or the macro-level of nations and cultures? How do we address these challenges, and what remains to be developed? How can pastoral care be conceived in a way that positions it to engage and address the pain of globally wounded people?


Which texts and rituals taken from our spiritual heritages do we consider belonging to the core of spiritual care and ministry? What are the strengths and limitations of these heritages in effective care within the challenges of emerging care needs? How can historical and cultural distances that dislocate us from spiritual sources be bridged? When are spiritual beliefs, texts, and practices conducive to meet challenges, and when are they dysfunctional? How do secularizing contexts inhibit use of religious imagery? What are the sources of humanistic forms and methods of spiritual care?


According to what techniques or procedures can we improve our understanding of the lived spirituality of the patient? What imagery use in the communication with patients serves the quality of the care contact? What dispositions and qualifications are necessary and sufficient to define and develop spiritual care and counseling? What metaphors are helpful in clarifying the self-image and -presentation of the pastoral and hospital chaplain and improve role-interactions with the patient?


What ‘critical incidents’ in patients come to mind as typical for pastoral care and counselling? Which CPE methods are established to successfully ‘read’ patients as ‘living human documents,’ within the ‘human web’ situation and what techniques require improvement? How are the patients’ problems, values, and beliefs experienced and what is their impact on wellbeing, healing, and happiness? What ‘state-of-the-art’ concepts and theories for interpreting cases may succeed (or support) the psycho-analytical and humanistic frameworks of the past?