Exploring what it means to be a pastoral companion.
© 2017 Michael Forster. All rights reserved. Bespoke Web Pages.
Michael wants to be quite clear not only about the extent but also about the limits of his qualifications and experience. It’s important, if he is booked for any kind of event for this to be clear.
Revd. Michael Forster PG Dip (Counselling) MBACP, Cert Theol (Oxon), LTCL
That gives a quick summary: he’s an ordained minister, a qualified counsellor and a musician.
That’s the broad picture: now to the detail.
Music and Teaching
It was as a musician that Michael had his thirteen years of teaching experience as a full-time member of a Local Education Authority’s peripatetic team working in secondary schools. In the 1970s/80s, it was possible for holders of recognised Music College teaching diplomas to teach in that discipline without having attended Teacher Training College or obtained a B.Ed at university.
As well as his full-time post covering secondary schools, Michael was also recruited by a nearby Faculty of Education. His role there was to help B.Ed students develop their practical performing skills to an appropriate level.
In summary: Although not formally qualified as a teacher or trainer, Michael has substantial experience of teaching, of communicating knowledge and skills, which he also applied to his later roles as a minister and NHS Chaplain. In the latter role, he wrote and delivered training courses for NHS staff at the Trust’s training establishment.
Theology and Pastoral Care
Michael trained for the ministry at Regent’s Park College, Oxford on their ‘In-Pastorate’ training programme. This entailed whole-time training divided between two centres – college and church – whereby he spent half his week on his academic and pastoral training and the other half as ‘Student Minister’ of a small church, with oversight from the college, an experienced minister and local support group.
Students on this course did not at that time undertake a degree, but instead studied for the Oxford Certificate in Theology and the Baptist Union Certificate in Pastoral Studies.
Michael served as minister in three pastorates – one pre-ordination as Student Minister and two post-ordination. His last pastorate was half-time, alongside a half-time post in mental health chaplaincy – a wide-ranging post in more ways than one that covered the whole range of mental health service provision including inpatient units (from acute wards to intensive care, challenging behaviour and a secure forensic unit) as well as a range of county-wide community mental health care services.
He was later invited to become a whole-time chaplain and relinquished his final pastorate to accept that challenge. At this time the NHS Trust that employed him was broadening its remit beyond mental health to include Learning Difficulties and community healthcare The latter included the provision of chaplaincy services for community hospitals and other specialist clinical teams ranging from midwifery to palliative care.
In view of the complexity of his chaplaincy case-load, Michael undertook a part-time university course where he gained his post-graduate diploma in counselling and psychotherapy. This would have qualified him, had he wished to do so, to seek employment or set up his own practice as a counsellor, but he remained in his NHS post, using the enhanced counselling skills within the clinical pastoral care setting. He had a small caseload of formal counselling clients, and mainly brought the additional skills and insights to bear upon his general chaplaincy and pastoral care caseload. As his clinical supervisor expressed it ‘You are uniting two roles: that of a traditional pastor in a church and a counselor in a structured clinical setting – and bringing insights and practices from both to bear on your work. I’m happy with that’
For his last three years as a chaplain he was asked to undertake a senior post, co-ordinating the county-wide service, training and supervising other team members while continuing to carry a reduced case-load hmself.
During this period he continued to write and deliver training courses for chaplains and other NHS staff.
Now in retirement, Michael continues to reflect on principles and practice in the light of the length and breadth of his experience, and of his faith. He has focused that reflection on the writing of his book, Being There: The Healing Power of Presence.