‘Emotional empathy’ enables us to resonate with another person’s feelings, which is a vital skill for pastors, counsellors, Bible study leaders and prayer leaders. We have to make an effort to understand those we are with, which does not mean we have to agree with their point of view, otherwise we would be changing our opinions just like shifting sands and would not be of any help to those people. Unless we understand what it means to them we cannot engage properly with them, nor can we begin to help them. As a group leader we need to build up trust and cannot only do that if we are prepared to listen and understand their points of view. Only then can the person feel able to open up and share their views fully. That does not mean forcing our opinions on them, giving them no space to breathe, so that the person cannot trust that his opinions would be respected if not agreed with.
One place she learnt that was being a member of synod in the Church of England for 27 years, where it was difficult to build up trust with people of such differing views; the high Catholic centre, the liberal camp, open evangelical camps; the reform group who are set in their beliefs and will not budge and the charismatic groups who want to infiltrate them all and hear and learn. We may not agree in all the camps but we can learn from each other. The high Catholics and Reform Catholics did not agree about the prospect of women priests and regarded those who supported them as heretical. When the vote for women priests was won by the margin of 2 votes and Elaine as my father did felt elated that after years of struggle women were actually going to be ordained. Elaine felt totally elated and ran out to let people know and collided with the Bishop of London, who felt devastated and Elaine’s feeling of elation stopped and she felt distressed for him. She put her hand out to shake his hand, and she said she did not know what to say to the man. The Bishop of London took both her hands and said that Synod had spoken and that he would work with it. Elaine had been empathetic and felt his pain and helped him feel understood too.
I remember Kathleen telling me that my father had even entertained a member of the synod prior to the vote to try to gain her support as she had not been convinced, so now nearing 90, he was desperate for a positive vote and daren’t listen to the result until Kathleen reassured him that the vote for women priests had been successful. Then he was so relieved that he was ready to die, he said as he had achieved his lifetime goal! I still think of that whenever the subject comes up.