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How Might Congregational Members Help Their Pastor?

  1. Imagine what you might want your own biological family member to experience in the context of personal trauma and grief. Offer that to your pastor, always allowing him/her to decline offers of help.
  1. Send cards, texts, emails, flowers. Let them speak on your behalf.
  1. In the event of a death limit personal visits to the official visitation unless you are personally close to the pastor. The visitation is more important than you know-- grievers experience it as the community’s care as well as affirmation of the reality and impact of the griever’s loss and pain.
  1. You are free to engage with the pastor more personally later, if the pastor responds favorably to an inquiry sent by text, email. Give the pastor plenty of freedom to say “No, not yet.”
  1. Give your pastor the time that he or she needs for working through grief before re-engaging ministry. When you wonder if the process is taking too much (or too little) time remember that your pastor is working through many difficult things at the pace that suits him or her best. Trust that the call that initially opened the way to ministry will reassert itself at the proper time, and be prepared if there is a decision to leave ministry altogether for a longer period of time. 
  1. Realize that your pastor is going to be a different person after suffering tragic loss and grief. One pastor reported that a couple in his church objected to his tears at communion and baptism ceremonies, even telling the council to make work of shaping him up or moving him along. Avoid such rushes to judgement. Extend more grace than seems necessary. 
  1. Acknowledge losses when annual celebrations arrive. Consider the following: 
    1. One pastor, after the death of an infant, said, “At the first birthday of our deceased baby (6 months after her death) we gathered friends for a time of prayer and liturgy. 
    2. Another pastor, after the loss of a teenage daughter: One of her friends wrote in a note, “We do not know what she is doing today but we are thinking of her...” It was always helpful when others acknowledged her existence after her death.