Dear Pastor, It is okay to mourn your church.

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man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

I had just finished a Zoom meeting with some area ministers.  The third Tuesday of every month is a time for us to gather over a meal and encourage each other in ministry.  As we were discussing some of the challenges in this new way of doing ministry.  As one pastor put so elegantly, “I’m finding out how much I am missing my congregation.”

Ministry is full of challenges.  I had heard on the pastor say that when he was in seminary, the professor proclaimed, “Ministry would be fun if there were no people.”  Before COVID-19, this statement would have gotten a few laughs and nods, but as the comment was said, there was no laughing, just a hollowness in our hearts and minds.  We may not miss the negativity, the gossip, the hurtful anonymous letters, and the personality conflicts.  But what we do miss, is the voice, eyes, touch, presence of an individual, even if that same individual has wronged you.

I have seen ministers who have defied government orders by still having services in their buildings.  I have seen pastors who have had criticism from the community, by doing a drive-in service; some even had had the police called on them.  Some pastors sit by the phone to receive updates from congregants who have been hospitalized while some preach a eulogy to a camera in an empty funeral home chapel, as no one has come out for services in fear of getting sick.

I get it.

I get that you love your church members

I get that you feel lost when you can not do a visitation, or go to the hospital, or preach a sermon in an empty sanctuary (or in your home)

I think of the parable of the lost sheep, except instead of one missing, its the whole flock that has been separated in separate areas while the shepherd is, for better or worst, trying to reach and feed the sheep under his/her care in new ways and, if we are being honest, you are completely lost.

So my suggestion to you, pastor, is to grieve.  Go somewhere and grieve this loss.  Go and grieve the simple handshakes, nudges, smiles, bump-ins, that most pastors take for granted.  Also, remember that your flock is not missing, they are just confined and they mourn too.  They miss you, and one day, they will be back and the church body will (hopefully) be stronger and united than ever, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Suicide: The Silent Assassin

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Today, I write with a grieving heart.  Yesterday afternoon, a acting student of mine, wrote to me saying to pray for his family because his sister committed suicide in the morning.  As I read the words, there was a numbness that washed over me and pictures of his sister played in my head.  I see her laughing, smiling, and curly hair moving in the wind as she is shooting a scene in our silent movie.  I connected back saying i will lift his family up in prayer and gave him my number so he can reach me.  After that, i would examine each image in my mind, searching, hoping, that there was a clue that showed that this was going to happen; but i couldn’t find one.

Suicide is always a touchy subject.  We grieve when a beloved takes their life and we get angry when someone kills themselves after they killed a hand full of people.  Some people see it as cowardice and others see it as honorable.  What we do not seem to acknowledge is what is going on inside the person who is contemplating death.  Environment, culture, religion, social settings all factor in our view on the issue, that it is hard to get to the facts and find solutions before it is too late. It’s easy to be vocal when it is after the fact, but what happens before?  What steps can one take? can we do anything?

Here are some stats about adolescence and suicide.

  1. Suicide is ranked third as the leading cause of death among adolescents.
  2. Between 1952 and 1995, the rate of suicide among adolescents rose 300 percent.
  3. the average likelihood is that every year a teacher can expect at least one or two adolescents to contemplate of attempt suicide each year.
  4. A principle of a school can expect on average one complete suicide every five years.

Source information pulled from Crisis Intervention Strategies, Sixth Edition.

These numbers are staggering.  We can blame mental illness, but our culture still has an unhealthy relationship with the mental health institutions.  Plus some people are clear-cut case studies and others are not.

We can blame parents, schools, bullies, the justice system, etc. as the cause of suicide, but what about those who do not fit the mold?

That’s why I think suicide is a silent assassin because it can shock those who have connections with the departed, who see only the outside, while the inside is hidden.

So what can we do about it?

  1.  What i think is to have an atmosphere in one’s household of openness and honesty.  When a safe place is established in the home, you will find that adolescents will be more open to share about what they are experiencing.  The difficult part about this is adolescents are going through so many hormonal changes that they may have issues pointing at the source.  You may even have an adolescent be disrespectful or say hurtful things that can cause one’s walls to be built up.  But a discipline of openness and honesty will go along way to prevent suicide.
  2. Look for the smallest cues.  Sometimes people will play big triggers (talking about dying, joking about dying, being more secluded, rapid change in behavior, etc.) but sometimes the smallest cues can shine through, even if the person is trying desperately to hide their feelings.  As i searched through my memory banks, one particular incident came to mind.  The young woman was dancing in the dining hall working on something for the talent show.  It was really good what she was doing, however, she must not have notice that i was there.  I said that she was doing a great job and she told me no that it was stupid.  I proceed to challenger her a bit and told her that the worst critic is the one inside you head.  Everyone here is going to love and support you with what you perform.  But at the end of the day, she decided not to perform her piece.  Could i have done more?  Should i have continue to press the matter?  Did this “silent assassin,” set up home in her head already at this point?  I don’t know.  If you do notice any of the smallest cues, address them.  Do not think it is a “phase” or “hormonal.”
  3. Make sure you know your sources.  Find a good counselor.  If you can find one who specializes in crisis intervention and/or suicide, set up an appointment.  Do not let money be the fear that prevents someone for healing.  look for other sources like suicide hotlines, or any kind of online crisis centers.  Having those resources available is a small step that can have life long consequences.
  4. Support and love those who have loss on to suicide.  Lift them up with prayer, bring them meals, give them hugs, do their errands, whatever it takes, pour love into those who grieve.  Not only will the family be appreciative but it will implant the idea that they have a support system in place.

 

Sources:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
American Counseling Association: https://www.counseling.org/
American Association of Christian Counselors: http://www.aacc.net/