Is your church grieving? Recently, I heard a clergy person describe the depressed and change resistant state of her church as a form of grief. It made sense to me. From time to time, congregations become overwhelmed by the loss of a specific individual or family. I also know of churches that for years have mourned their loss of status in the community. Loss happens. Both individuals and congregations go through periods of grief.
Further, communities also experience times of grief. Demographics shift. A major employer leaves town. Those who remember better days, gather each week at church to grieve together. Church, with its predictable rituals, becomes the place to reiterate our shared sense of hopelessness. We choose the solemn Psalms and dull hymns to express our “woe is me” sentiment.
A while back, everyone was reading “Who moved my cheese?” The book dealt with our need, both as individuals and as businesses, to adapt to new circumstances. Grief can short-circuit our capacity to look for what we need in alternate places. We are too busy mourning what is gone to contemplate creative new ideas. We feel that we can’t afford any further losses. We become risk adverse.
When grief seems to be a good word to describe a congregation’s lowered state of emotions, there a few things to keep in mind:
- Grief is a transitional process. It is designed to take us from initial shock, through a number of adaptive steps, forward to a state of acceptance and renewed activity.
- Grief shouldn’t be rushed, neither should it be prolonged. People need to discuss how their process is going. Do they recognize that they are grieving? Do they feel they are making progress?
- Healing begins when a community or congregation names what it has lost. We need to be clear about what we are grieving. There is something therapeutic about these honest discussions.
- People need to see how similar their congregation’s grieving is to their grief experiences as individuals. The tools they used to overcome personal grief may also be useful on the congregational level.
- What does faith have to say? Paul talks about not grieving like those who have no hope ( I Thessalonians 4:13). How do we apply faith to our situation?
- What Bible stories help? Can we trust God to heal our church?
Grief is a natural process. It obeys its own logic and order. Recognizing this is the first step towards turning around the mournful congregation.