The Rev. Dr. William Harkins, Columbia Theological Seminary

Dr. William Harkins is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. He holds a PhD in Pastoral Theology, an MA and an MDiv all from Vanderbilt University. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an approved supervisor in AAMFT. He is interested in applications of pastoral theology and counseling to congregational and clinical settings, particularly with regard to family systems theory. He also explores the intersections between psychoanalysis and religious studies; pastoral counseling centers in congregational settings; men’s studies in religion. He is on staff as an Episcopal priest at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, and holds a family therapy practice at the Brookwood Center for Psychotherapy. He is on the CREDO faculty, which is a wellness initiative for clergy.

(Voices of Pastoral Care is an audio series.  The following is a summary of discussion points with time locations listed.  The link for the audio is at the bottom of this blog entry.) 

In this interview, Dr. Harkins explores how his understanding of family systems theory helps him not only in psychotherapy work, but in congregational settings.  He is able to use this model to help churches manage difficulties that arise over time, much in the same way that a family might experience conflict and growing pains (1:40).  He also discusses the importance of boundaries for clergy, particularly in not overstepping one’s professional role, and highlights the importance of consulting with clergy colleagues when one finds him or herself in a difficult pastoral situation (3:55).

Dr. Harkins has a specialty in Men’s Spiritualities (note the plural, which emphasizes the wide variety of spiritual expression).  He calls this work the “third wave” in the men’s spirituality movement, and finds it to be more curious and open to a wide variety men’s expressions of self and their religious needs (8:23).  The most important task for congregations in fostering men’s spiritualities is allowing for a context for men to come together, such as a group or regular meeting in which men can openly explore their spiritual understanding and difficulties (12:09).

Dr. Harkins is a faculty member with CREDO, which is a wellness initiative for clergy in the Episcopal Church.  He believes the greatest challenge facing clergy is isolation in parishes; this isolation can lead clergy (both new and experienced) to become cut off from their own spiritual practices, from their communities of origin, and from their previous self-care methods.  He recommends that clergy find a clergy group and stay in it, using it as a support against isolation and other challenges that accompany the ministerial work (14:27).  Finally, Dr. Harkins believes that compassion is at the heart of the pastoral encounter and recommends that clergy are both open to giving compassion, but also to receiving it in their own lives.

It was a pleasure to listen to Dr. Harkins share his insight into pastoral ministry.  He provides an expansive template for pastoral care, looking to the needs of individuals, congregations and whole communities, while keeping a pulse on the self-care needs of clergy.  He has wonderful advice to share. Take a listen…

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    1. Voices of Pastoral Care: An Audio Series – Pomomusings

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