One of our colleagues is facing a most difficult return to her pulpit Sunday. How does a pastor approach a worship service that meets her needs, her congregation’s and is faithful to the work of worship?
Dear Women in Ministry,
I am a second career, ordained for 6 years and in the same small church for all that time. My husband of 44 yrs died unexpectedly on Monday, August 5, after he had attended our service with communion the previous day. While he was weakened by post-polio syndrom and gaining dementia characteristics, on that Sunday he was happy and “glowing” as one person said. I have been off from leading Sunday worship for this whole month, although I’ve had visitors from the church and many came to the memorial service. I did attend, briefly, the church picnic one Sunday.
What I could use is some information on what I can do on my first Sunday back, which is also a communion Sunday, September 1. I usually follow the lectionary, but am up for something else if it strikes me. My husband’s faith was strong, and mine is holding me up well.
Dear Pastor LR- Please know that our prayers are with you as you navigate all of your vocations during this time. The congregation is likely to take their lead from you. That being said, I encourage you to seek a balance that feels right to you between vulnerability and strength. It’s okay to be honest about things that may have been difficult or were becoming difficult. It does not mean that you wanted or expected your husband to die, but that things were more complicated than they may have seemed from the outside. It’s also okay to acknowledge that your faith is strong through this and that you know people who struggle with more complicated grief are not weaker in faith, but dealing with different things. As for the service, go with what seems right to you. It may feel or seem more right just to address the congregation and then acknowledge your need or desire for the community consolation and promise of communion and then continue with the service. As one pastor to another, I remind you that some people will read into what is said and left unsaid and you can’t control that (dang it!). Don’t try to head off any problems that you’ve imagined might exist. (This might just be advice to myself.) Just deal with exactly what’s in front of you, as you can, remembering to be pastoral to yourself as well.
Kathryn Zucker Johnston
Dear Pastor LR, I trust you, and after five years I’m sure your congregation trusts you, to follow your heart. If you want to have something written and ready to read, do that, but by no means do you have to stick to it. In fact, your people will be looking for ways to support you and are grieving themselves. I’ve had Sunday morning services that felt more like a service to the resurrection, than the actual funeral did. Prayers ascending for the short term and the long term adjustments and grief.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but don’t be afraid of letting the congregating see your holy tears. When we had a baby die and I was telling our then five year old daughter about it, I said as I watched her chin quivering, “it’s okay to cry. It is a sad time.” Her wise reply? “But mommy, you don’t cry!” I realized my error in not letting her see my tears. Like it or not, how you grieve will be seen and noted by your congregation. There is a time for everything… We grieve, but not as a people without hope. Be gentle with yourself. This is a hard time.
Be genuine. Allow yourself some space for things to be different, harder, more emotional. Allow them, as much as you can, to care for you. And if you’d like to express thanks or appreciation for care given so far, do that.
Thank you, Matriarchs, for attending to the needs of this RevGal.
Our Matriarchs invite you to offer your own words of wisdom and encouragement for this this RevGal. . Please respond in the comments below.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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