Category Archives: Jim’s Blog

Good grief

May 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


My mother, Winifred (Winnie) Grace Hayes, died April 24, 2017, after a three year dance with pancreatic cancer.

We all face death, dying, grief, and the support necessary to endure at various points in our lives. I have spent a good bit of my career walking with and counseling folks who have lost a loved one. As I recently mentioned to a colleague here at the Center, when it comes to grief there’s a big difference between the theoretical and experiential. As one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, put it in one of her letters (collected in The Habit of Being), “pity the one who loves what death can touch.”

It’s disorienting. As much as I like my new job, I find myself regularly distracted as I think of my Mom—or my Dad who is now navigating life without his wife of 59 years. I worry. You reach out to pick up the phone and then realize it won’t be answered. It hurts.

One of the great benefits about working here at the Center is that I’m surrounded by folks whose job is to be sensitive and empathetic. Their concern is sincere as they ask me how I’m doing.  Like many people in our lives, my perfunctory response is that “I’m fine.” Usually I am. When I’m not, it’s nice to be able to open up a bit. One of those colleagues gave me a bookmark which we hand out to those who have lost someone. It captures this quote from Helen Keller: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

We distribute or reference many books on grief here at the Center. Among the popular authors is James E. Miller, who just happened to live across the hall from Ellery Duke in grad school. Miller’s books are eminently practical. In his book, “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” he enumerates 10 ways to cope:

  1. Accept the likelihood of your pain.
  2. Feel whatever it is you feel.
  3. Express your emotions.
  4. Plan ahead.
  5. Take charge where you can.
  6. Turn to others for support
  7. Be gentle with yourself.
  8. Find a way to remember.
  9. Search out your blessings.
  10. Do something for others.

Many who visit us for counseling and spiritual direction have been touched by death and grief. I am so grateful that they will find at the Center a place of hope and healing as they go through the grieving process.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Thank you for all you do to make our mission possible.



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The Center at 45 Years

April 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


6 April 1972. Ring a bell?

That date, 45 years ago, was when the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center was formally incorporated. How do I know this? One of the first things Ellery Duke (executive director 1976 – 2016) provided me when I arrived in December 2016 was a faded and only slightly tattered copy of the board of directors’ minutes of the first four years of the Center.

It’s a great read, thanks to Glenna Evans, who was the secretary for all those meetings. She has a distinctive voice and wry wit as she captures some of the drama of our first years. The document begins with a thematic “This is Your Life” summary, based on the popular TV show of the day.

Click page to launch a readable version of the Center’s history, “This is Your Life” by Glenna Evans.

I often think of Glenna, of Dr. Ray Martin, our Founder and all the others who have made this mission possible—and vibrant. Reflecting on their efforts inspires gratitude. We had cupcakes at our April staff meeting to commemorate the 45th.  As our 50th anniversary arises on the horizon of our consciousness, I hope that we can put together a quality history of the many great stories of hope and healing that occurred over the decades. We’ll also need to have an appropriate celebration on or around 6 April 2022. Pencil it in!

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Until then, thank you again for the many ways you support us and inspire our mission.



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A reflection on trust

March 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


In God We Trust.

When is the last time you looked at a dollar bill—I mean really examined it?

The currency claims we trust God, meanwhile we’ve created a legal tender that is itself an idol. Ironic, eh?

I have been in many conversations of late that have touched on the issue of trust. The topics of the conversations varied: politics, workplace, religion, family relationships, among others. Trust as a common thread certainly helps one to appreciate the necessity of trust in the tapestry that makes up all of our relationships.

As an organization that helps clients to navigate the complexities of relationships—and to bring hope and healing through counseling and education to the scary places where despair and pain lurk—trust is not simply a concept, but life’s blood for the healing process.  For those who bring questions of spirituality, faith and theology into this mix, we raise the stakes by wondering about our trust in the almighty, the creation, the cosmos. If we can’t trust that power, what’s left?

In God we trust? In others we trust? In our country we trust? In our therapist we trust?  In . . . what do we trust?

I have worked hard in my first couple months as the executive director to build trust. I have been meeting with colleagues here at work to better understand what is great about the Center and to deepen my appreciation for the talent and gifts that our staff members bring to work each day. I have been in conversations with board members and lots of donors and others committed to the success of our work. It is clear to me that we need to be an organization worthy of the obvious trust people place in us in spite of the limits imposed by the human nature of all involved. How do we earn and maintain trust? Here are some spontaneous musings:

  1. Keep your word and maintain the integrity of words and actions.
  2. Trust takes time and work. It is only earned through depth of relationship, so never take it for granted.
  3. When we have relationships in our lives worthy of trust, we should continually offer thanks to others for the hard work they have done to earn our trust.
  4. Finding common ground. We certainly don’t need to all think alike or believe in the same things, but we do need to take the time to know one another and appreciate our similarities.
  5. Trust your own values and beliefs. Given all the diverse systems of understanding and belief, we need to be honest about who we are. It certainly opens us up to ridicule and rejection, but we can be trusted to be who we are in all times and places.

What else would you add to this list?

Let me offer an example out of my own faith perspective. The Christians among us (we are a diverse group of many beliefs, who serve an equally diverse clientele) are in the midst of a Lenten journey, preparing for the foundational feast of Easter. It is often a journey of exploration of the many ways we have not been trustworthy.  Before the glory of the resurrection, Jesus becomes the exemplar of trust in the God of creation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as the powers of distrust, death and darkness close in on him, just when it seems that God has abandoned him and the earth, he offers this prayer: “Abba, all things are possible for you . . . if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours be done.”  Talk about trust!

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

My hope is that the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center will always do our best to be worthy of the confidence our community offers us as we live out our mission. Part of that mission is to help all those we serve to build or re-build healthy relationships, worthy of trust.


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Hope is the thing with feathers

February 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily DickinsonHope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…

So begins the poem of Emily Dickinson on hope. The poor bird is abashed by chill and storm and somehow perseveres.

Hope has often been on my mind of late. We have had many discussions as a staff about how to live our mission of hope and healing in an age of turmoil. For many, the current social and political context, along with the accompanying shouting, has ratcheted up the anxiety levels of many of our clients who already struggle with heightened emotions. They are not alone. Others experience emotional intensity by holding feelings back—not wanting to risk exhibition of feelings or thoughts for fear that they will be judged. If the mission of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is to bring hope and healing through counseling and education, what is our role in this age of turmoil? Such storms threaten to blow the feathers right off us!

My response is rooted in the theological understanding of hope. If you’ve ever run across the word “eschatology,” count your blessings. It’s rooted in the Greek notion of the end times, when all will be brought to fulfillment. You find good examples of the notion in many spiritual traditions, particularly the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Think “apocalypse” and you’re in the ballpark. Eschatological hope is rooted in the notion of that which is fulfilled already and that which is yet to be fulfilled. We experience the “already” in moments of flow, love, and right relationship when the world seems to be a good place. The “not yet” is when we bump up against the limits of this life. These are the scary times of fear, loss, and injustice. Such moments raise questions such as why? Why now? Why this? Wait, what????

As one of our staff mentioned when we were discussing how such moments impact our therapies, spiritual direction and everyday conversation, we stand in the gaps between the already and the not yet. A reference was made to Parker Palmer’s fine book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, which names such gaps and potential responses to such moments. The gaps are not places of comfort, but certainly offer opportunity and hope. For the “already” members of our tribes, it means getting busy making the world a better place in the face of fear, loss, and injustice. Hope doesn’t allow for passivity in such moments, but inspires engagement and getting our hands dirty in doing the good work that needs to be done. The “not yet” folks offer us a message of hope that reminds us that we are a part of a creation that existed before us and will continue after us. As one of my heroes, Oscar Romero, put it: “we are prophets of a future not our own.” Such prophets remind us that we have work to do, but that we also need to acknowledge our inability to bring the fullness of good to fruition.

Let me move from the philosophical and provide an example. I volunteer every Friday at a place called “Hope Ministries,” which works with the homeless. I spend every Friday with men who have messed up their own lives and those they love in ways beyond the imagining of most of us. And yet, we have the audacity to meet every week and talk about hope—a future of possibility. Some of them get there—sober, reconciled with families, re-engaged as employed and contributing citizens. Others return to the streets. Already and not yet.

As each of us contemplates our calling and role in our current social and political context, remember that we are rooted in hope. We take hope and healing very seriously in our daily mission here at the Center. In the moments it’s evident, we celebrate. And we give thanks for all of you who make it possible. In the moments the turmoil tempts us with despair and fear, I encourage us all to remember the following gem from a survivor of one of history’s greatest evils:

“Everything can be taken from a man (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

Let us choose hope and healing.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

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Greetings from our new executive director, Jim Hayes

“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” -George Washington Carver

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

January 2017 – I am so grateful to begin work here at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. I thank those I have already met for the many ways you have welcomed me to this talented place. One of my first steps in taking on my new role is to listen to the wisdom of the community. I am meeting with staff, board members, donors and various constituencies in the community who have a stake in our success. I have also been privileged to have a good bit of time with Ellery before his official retirement.

All of these rich conversations reminded me of the above Carver quote. He is near the top of my pantheon of influences for a number of reasons. First, he attended Simpson College and Iowa State University, my most recent places of employment. Next, his steadfast hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, which was based in a vision of potential and opportunity rather than despair. Finally, he was a person of action. In another famous quote, he states: “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.

As we begin the next chapter of the inspiring history of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, my heart is filled with gratitude. Let me borrow Carver’s quote to explain why:

Start where you are…

The Center began in April, 1972—nearly 45 years ago. The leadership and commitment of all involved in this work is truly inspiring. What began as a simple idea at First United Methodist Church and the vision of Dr. Ray Martin, has blossomed into this wonderful organization that brings hope and healing into the lives of so many. I have the privilege of following a man of many gifts, Ellery Duke. As the board put it in the search process, it’s a vibrant organization, so don’t break it! No pressure.

with what you have.

My life has been filled with blessings and generous people, beginning with my family. My retired parents passed along the gifts of faith and core values which have served me well. Dad was a mechanic and Mom a school teacher. They taught us the value of hard work and the potential for education to make for a fulfilled life. I took that to heart in my studies. As my dean at Simpson once said, “Jim has more degrees than a thermometer.” I am most proud of the instilled value to serve others and seek justice. It is one of the reasons I made the move to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. I am inspired by the commitment made at all levels of this institution to make sure that quality services are available to anyone seeking hope and healing.

Make something of it and never be satisfied.

I look forward to meeting folks throughout our service region to better understand how the Center is already in a position of strength, but also to think strategically about how to marshal our resources in such a way that we can make an even bigger impact on the people and places touched by brokenness or despair. Healing and hope are as needed today as they have ever been. George Washington Carver understood that. I am excited to take on my new role at DMPCC to join all of you in sharing in this important mission.



James E. Hayes, D.Min., M.Div.,  is the Executive Director of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. For his bio and links to his posts, please see

Health Tip – Exercise Gratitude

by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

January 2017 – The turning of the year provides an opportunity to look back with gratitude for all that has given us life in the past year, and to direct that positive energy into our communal and individual resolution to make 2017 an even better year.

I’m a big believer in the nurturing of habits and virtues. Through the habitual exercise of virtues we value, we can make them a more integral part of who we are. Gratitude is certainly one of those virtues for me. If we take one minute each day to ask the question: “What was I grateful for today?”, we nourish our ability to face future challenges.

If you’re a visual learner, search YouTube for the video of Shawn Achor entitled the “Happiness Challenge.” Here’s a link:

Achor’s thesis is that grateful folks are happier in the long run and often engage others more deeply as a result of the insight that each moment is a precious opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Here’s a summary of his 21 day happiness challenge:

  1. Reflect on three things you’re grateful for each day.
  2. Journal on one thing for which you’re grateful.
  3. Exercise (even a five minute walk will do it).
  4. Meditation/mindfulness (even two minutes of sitting quietly helps).
  5. Perform a random act of kindness. I find a quick note to someone for whom you’rE grateful is a great exercise of this.

I am grateful to begin my tenure at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and to be working with such a great group of people. May your 2017 be filled with abundant experiences and people that will provide you with a grateful heart.