Becoming a bereavement friendly church


 

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans Ch 12 v 15

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. James Ch1 v 27

At Oundle Baptist Church, since 2018, we have been exploring how to become a Bereavement Friendly Church, indeed a bereavement friendly town if we can, to reach out, with the love of Jesus, to all those who face bereavement in our local community.

We know how to provide a great funeral, but have much to learn about helping one another prepare for the death of those we love, or even for our own death.  Once the funeral is over life does not return to normal for those who are grieving, and we wanted to equip ourselves to be better able to walk alongside people as they navigate the months and years ahead.  The pandemic has resulted in so many more deaths and added layers of complication and difficulty for families at their most painful time.

Over this last year in our town and in our wider networks we have seen people face the death of loved ones, while unable to be at the bedside or graveside to say their farewells.  In deep mourning families are not allowed to gather, friends cannot offer hugs, neighbours or colleagues may not share a cheering cuppa or a squeeze of the hand. A lasagne left on a doorstep or pastoral support by phone, zoom is scant comfort and has left many struggling and isolated in their grief.  Friends who want to support and show care often feel uncertain how to help.

We were partly prepared. With our friends from the local Anglican and Methodist churches we had, in 2018, hosted the Bereavement Care Awareness Training Day. This excellent introductory course offered by Care for the Family is now also available online.

Our Bereavement Ministry team began exploring next steps.  We attended a Death Café in early 2019 as observers, amazed at the level of interest on a wet February night.  We met palliative care professionals, chaplains, will writers, independent celebrants and many others invested in caring for people who are dying and for those who are bereaved.

More training needed. This led to my attendance at the excellent Bereavement Ministry Training Course at Cliff College in 2019, kindly supported by a Mission Micro Grant from EMBA.  Led by Yvonne Richmond Tulloch, and a team from the charity At a Loss, the 5-day course was a real eye opener to approaches to ministering to people after the death of a loved one. 

At a Loss is a signposting charity that directs bereaved people to the support most appropriate for them.  They offer online support too, and a particular programme for young adults aged 18-30.

We held our first Grave talk Cafes and opened our doors to people we had never met before, but who wanted to discuss this sensitive subject using the CofE Grave Talk material. This led to some very thought-provoking discussions and surprising amounts of laughter.  We had booked to host our next Grave Talk Cafes at our local library, to be more accessible, and widen our audience, but covid 19 stopped that.

Immediately before lockdown on 5 March 2020, I was honoured to be invited to attend the launch of the Loss and Hope website.  Loss and Hope is a coalition of Christian organisations seeking to help the Church support the bereaved.

Held at Lambeth Palace with guests from across the UK, representing a wide range of churches, local and national organisations and others, all united in a desire to improve our response.  I was pleased to meet Ken Benjamin, former BU President there, whose tender book Some Words for Another Time, we regularly give away. The speakers included Loss and Hope Founder Yvonne Richmond Tulloch, Rob Parsons & Paula Pridham from Care for the Family and Roy Crowne and Rachel Jordan-Wolf from Hope Together.  Some individuals shared their own stories of bereavement including TV presenter Simon Thomas. All acknowledged the approaching wave of the pandemic & anticipated the massive death toll and the tsunami of grief it would provoke.

We had heard about the Bereavement Journey Course, which has helped so many for over 25 years through Holy Trinity Brompton, and decided to try it ourselves.  It operates a bit like an Alpha course, local teams use the videos and coursebooks provided and facilitate discussions in small groups over 6 weeks. We had a daytime and an evening Bereavement Journey Course running last spring when in week 4 the first lockdown closed our doors. 

Amazingly the Bereavement Journey team at HTB got busy and established a zoom version of the programme, which now operating nationally via zoom. Two members of our team are volunteering as helpers for the online version, which guests are finding a tremendous help, and we are learning a great deal from our experience.  We wholeheartedly recommend it.

There is so much more to learn and many training and support opportunities are now running online.  Some of the team will be attending the forthcoming Pandemic Recovery Training offered by the Wesleyan Church in Birmingham (online of course).

Why do we do it? We are called to love.

We want to welcome and care for people without judgement or conditions. For some people this is a faith journey. The trauma of bereavement can challenge or awaken faith.  We are in a unique place to speak God’s love through the care that we offer, to create a connection as we journey with people. The training, books and resources all help equip us with good practice and excellent tools to minister the love of Jesus. 

It is our hope that we can continue to develop our bereavement ministry, to help make our church, our community, indeed our town a place where people who have been bereaved feel safe, cared for, listened to and loved. Where we can develop a vocabulary allowing discussion about death and bereavement.  Please pray for us and let us know what has worked for your church and community so that we can learn from each other.

- By Judith Brashaw, Bereavement Team Co-ordinator, Oundle Baptist Church