4 Pastoral Care

The ministry of the cure of souls, or pastoral care, consists of helping acts, done by representative [...] persons, directed toward the healing, sustaining, guiding and reconciling of troubled persons whose troubles arise in the context of ultimate meanings and concerns. (Clebsch and Jaekle 4)

William A. Clebsch and Charles R. Jaekle define "representative [...] persons" as "persons who, de jure or de facto, bring to bear upon human troubles the resources, the wisdom, and the authority of [...] faith and life” (4). Romance authors clearly qualify as such both because, as mentioned in the previous chapter, they resemble pastors in offering hope and because, as discussed in the chapter about faith, by publicising their credentials as individuals with particular experience and knowledge about love, they give themselves a level of authority in discussing love.

A few authors have brought this authority to bear fairly directly, as when “Ruby M. Ayres was answering readers’ problem letters in Home Companion  in the 1950s” (Anderson 266). Generally however, they exert the capacity to help troubled readers though their fiction. Author Jennifer Greene has acknowledged that

Possibly that caring between reader and writer is something that someone outside the romance field wouldn't understand. Romances are about us - our struggles, our hopes, our needs. [...] I sincerely believe that romances have the unique power to reach each other - and to help each other. That's always been my front line goal in writing. (Jaegly 42-43)

This “caring between reader and writer” is not simply felt by authors: communications from readers attest to their perception of its existence. Leigh Michaels, for example, once averred that she was

in awe of the ways in which my stories have touched the lives of my readers. I've heard from people who have been able to deal with painful past relationships because of a story I wrote, who can look more positively on lives full of sadness or illness because of the escape my characters offer. There's even a reader whose life may have been saved because my story about carbon monoxide poisoning prompted her to have her furnace checked. (Jaegly 86)

The reciprocal nature of this understanding of the role romances can play in readers’ lives is significant since pastoral care

begins when an individual person recognizes or feels that his trouble is insolvable in the context of his own private resources, and when he becomes willing, however subconsciously, to carry his hurt and confusion to a person who represents to him, however vaguely, the resources and wisdom and authority of religion. (Clebsch and Jaekle 5)

Of course, some readers are considerably less troubled than others but

as Harlequin has found with its reader focus groups [...] what reading offers [is] a temporary rest from the present stress and demands of life.

One woman in a focus group mentioned that her every waking moment was spent caring for her son, who was dying. The only time she had to forget that daily pain was when she was reading a romance, because then she could get away from that imminent unhappy ending.

It’s not always a tragic situation that brings readers back to romance. Any amount of rest from a present stress could be desired. (Wendell 34-35)

The mother to a dying child was quite clearly troubled “in the context of ultimate meanings and concerns” but all stresses which involve doubts about the purpose of one’s life and how one relates to others are associated with “ultimate meanings and concerns” to a faith which centres around love. That romance novels can heal, guide, reconcile and sustain their readers is evident from the accounts of both readers and authors.