Monday, November 22, 2021

Lynette Moran: A Theology of Mourning and Hope: Part III: Practical Steps for Grieving the Church

Today’s post is by Rev. Lynette Moran. Rev. Moran is an ordained deacon in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. This is the third of a three-part series.

In my two previous posts, I have described the church grief that many of us in The United Methodist Church are experiencing and described the theological message of hope that we have in the midst of all forms of mourning and grief. I would like to close this series with some practical affirmations about the work of moving with and through our grief.

First, we need to name the griefs we are facing. We cannot cope with what we refuse to acknowledge. We are facing the end of the UMC as we know it. We are continuing to face COVID and its line of variants. We are facing climate change and ecological crises. These are disorienting and somber. We cannot cope with what we refuse to acknowledge.

Second, we need to provide people a place to have their grief. Everyone is at a different place. Some people are still at a place where they haven’t bought into the idea of the potential split of the UMC or the full realities of COVID or the reality of climate change. We must meet people where they are. It requires extra effort and creativity to welcome all into the fold. Hospitality, God’s radical love, calls us to do so.

Third, we need to provide opportunity for healing. Rituals, liturgy, music, and pastoral care matter. So do opportunities for storytelling. These opportunities could be in a journal, small group setting, or in general conversation. We must lead reflective conversations that acknowledge loss and change. We should offer opportunities to make meaning. Remember that people will make meaning no matter what—I would rather they do so in the care of the church than alone out in the world. These conversations will happen immediately and for months and years to come.

Fourth, we should resource out. Most of us are not counselors. Clinical complicated grief, prolonged grief, and persistent complex bereavement are serious and beyond most of our abilities to address. Remember to refer to other professionals as needed. Connect with other faith leaders and professionals in your area to see what temporary and permanent resources are available (and also consider how your church can fill any gaps).

Fifth, we should know our communities and adopt our strategies to those contexts. Someone living in a rural community of farmers might have different conversations and different grief to witness than a coastal city that is hit every year by major storms and flooding.

Sixth, we must bear witness to others’ grief. Mourning is a dark place where most people don’t feel comfortable sitting. We like to cheer people up; we like to feel comfortable; we like to fill the silences. But most of us also know that one of the most hopeful and healing things we can ever experience is someone knowing us at our deepest and darkest—and them staying and loving us as we are. Practice witnessing. Help others learn to effectively witness others' grief.

Seventh, we must practice radical hope. Provide images for what healing and the future can look like. Ask effective questions. What can go back to normal? What needs to change? How can we be okay no matter what the future holds? How can we reframe hope when life does not go as we want? How can we live out the kingdom of God now, in this circumstance? How can our congregations know it will be okay no matter what the future holds? Provide images for what healing and the future can look like. Have these conversations—ask these questions—and more.

Moreover, radical hope might involve acting radically, getting involved with social justice movements and advocating for those who are most harmed by the current environment. With COVID, many of us have worked to get the vaccine accessible to all people, not just some. Some of us advocate for clean air and water and other environmental and health needs. Again, this goes from the individual to the larger community. Big businesses that profit from ecological destruction must be confronted. As the church, I think we must take effort to connect how our mass consumption in the US causes harm in the exploitation of workers and natural resources around the world.

Finally, we should tend to our own grief. Our work with the grief of others cannot proceed without work on our grief as well.

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