Good for any sized church, these grief-support measures can help you reach out and minister to community families in pain when a child or parent dies
by Karen Taylor
I was sitting at home this morning, reflecting on the sad news that a five year old girl and her mom from my church community were killed in a car accident yesterday not too far from where I live. As I listened to the news reports, my heart went out to the family of the two for what I imagine are the trauma, the grief, and the void left behind because of the loss of their loved ones.
The next thought I had was what my ministry could do to help in situations like these. Several ideas came to me immediately. A quick check on the Web put a name to this kind of ministry. It’s called a Bereavement Ministry. Your church may have a different name for it, but I like this one as it covers the scope of outreach activities that a ministry or church of any size can engage in to reach families when they lose loved ones.
Blessings and Benefits of a Bereavement Ministry
Children Ministry should not only be about serving children and families attending church. We have a commission to reach and serve the community as well. The death of a child or parent in the church district or wider community is a good door-opener to minister to families in grief. It is proven that In their sorrow, families’ hearts are more open, not only to comfort, but to redemption. Where is the best place to find that comfort but in the Word of God?
What follows is my compilation of 20 + simple, but meaningful Bereavement Ministry activities that can help you get started on a ministry that’s sure to bring you personal fulfilment, disciple your team members and provide a teaching opportunity to address the subject of death with your Sabbath School class, and if you get them involved, instil in children a compassion for others and a desire to serve.
The last four activities speak to Children Ministry leaders who are do not mind pushing the limits and venturing into some activism for the greater good of the wider community. If these ideas appeal to you and your ministry workers, go ahead. Turn the public spotlight on the problem and get the tragedy-causing problems solved once and for all.
Done right, this ministry can also promote community goodwill towards your church, showcase your church as a beacon of hope, and open doors for the salvation of those grieving and those looking on. If you already have such a ministry, I hope you’ll find some new ideas here to revitalise your ministry. If you haven’t yet started such a ministry, now is a good time as any to start.
Here are some great ways that you can provided support to families through your Bereavement Ministry.
- Make Contact with the family as soon as possible and express your condolences. A simple phone call will suffice. Asking members of the congregation who may reside in the same community as the bereaved family is a good place to start, if the family are not attached to your church. Phone calls, email and even Facebook can also be effective communication channels to use to find the bereaved family. In my case I did a Facebook search of the deceased, found a sister and sent her a Facebook request this morning, requesting permission to visit and contact details for family residing in Hellshire. I also sent a comforting scripture and posted the radio news link of the crash to my Facebook newsfeed, asking for others to show the family support. I also shared photos of the deceased from her page to my Children Ministry and personal pages. She responded quickly, thankful for the comforting words and leaving a number I could call.
Here’s the extract from the message I received:
“Thanks for your kind and comforting words I really appreciate them. I am not living in Hellshire Heights. But I can give u a contact number for karrian mom and u could call her and make some arrangements to go and give your support. (sic ..I’ve deleted the phone number for privacy sake) her name is Sharon. and thanks again for your prayers.”
- Visitation. Ask permission to visit with the family alone or to have your ministry conduct a prayer service which will include children from your ministry and ministry leaders. Once you get a date and time, organise the programme with your ministry team, get the church’s approval if that is required, contact parents, and work out transportation logistics. Will parents drop off and pick up? Can team members who drive provide transportation carpool or will everyone travel together? Children sometimes do not understand death and may have ‘Why’ questions. Before you go, use the opportunity to explain as best as you can, and don’t forget to teach children the appropriate and inappropriate ways to show sympathy and respect for the family when they get to the home. Once you get to the home, keep a short prayer service for the family. Have your children’s choir sing to cheer their hearts. Share words of comfort from the Bible. lnvite your Pastor or another church leader, if he’s unavailable to join you at your planned Prayer Service or join your ministry visitation team
- Candlelight Vigil. Have a two -hour Candlelight Vigil at the accident scene and involve your Children Ministry team. Get the word out other parents and children in the community. Prepare lots of candles (with protective handles for small children) ahead of time for those who come. Pray, prepare a brief comforting message, invite family and friends to share remembrances, sing a few hymns, pray to end. As a safeguard, ask everyone to blow out and collect candles that haven’t burnt out by the end of the service.
- Offer Church facilities. If the family does not have a church, speak with your Pastor and propose to him whether you could offer your church for the Funeral Service. You may also offer your Children’s Choir to provide music at the funeral service. Simple gestures like providing ushers or passing a tissue to those crying, gently helping family members to get around the church, ensuring there are clean bathrooms for guests, or help with writing the eulogy can ease the burden off stressed family members, and send a loud message, “I care about you.”
- Counselling support. If your church has family/grief /trauma counsellors or within your local congregation, district or Conference level, why not offer grief counselling services to the family? Make sure you provide grief counselling to any children and teens in the home as well. Sometimes, they get overlooked while the adults are being supported.
- Grief Support for victims’ Family. Based on the information you’d have gathered from your meeting with the family, think of other ways your ministry, other church ministry/departments could help minimise the family’s grief? In times of grief, some families may become so distraught that family routines like shopping or even making dinner can be neglected? Can the Deaconate Council or Community Services prepare dinner for the family? Help with tidying of the home in preparation for visitors? Can the Health Department offer free blood pressure and diabetes checks? These can escalate during stress.
- Help with Kids. If there are any children in the home, offer to help get children ready for school. Drop off or pick up their kids. Parents or family members on hand may have to inform school authorities about these changes, so they can expect you. Take Identification with you to the school.
- Inspiration Texting. Send scripture-based encouragement by text message to the bereaved family members you have phone contacts for. One text each morning should be enough to start with. Based on the feedback to your texting, you may minimise or increase your texting activity. It’s a good idea to ask the receiver if it is okay to send these texts before doing so. It is easy for a distraught family member to get annoyed on a day when he or she may be seeking solitude as their grif takes them on an emotional roller coaster ride. Keep your texts and calls short and sweet, and not too early in the morning.
- Children’s Condolence Card.Depending on the age group of the child who has died, get your kindergarteners, primary/elementary or junior Sabbath School class(the child in this case is 5 years old) to create a Big-book type card (used legal sized paper or cartridge paper, if you want to go larger), embellished with hand art, handwritten messages, drawings, cut-outs of Jesus, and scripture verses, then hand- deliver your card when you visit the Home or any other time.
10. Donate a wreath. Gather funds together and buy a wreath for the deceased child. Check with your Women Ministries Craft group or any member of the congregation who possess wreath-making skills and ask them to assemble one, as a way to save on costs. Order the flowers from a flower shop in advance. Inform the family of the gesture. On the day of the funeral, ask a child from your ministry to place the wreath on the child’s coffin.
11. Attend and Involve Children at Funeral.Another way, you could get your children ministry involved is to ask the family if your ministry could provide a change of guard for the funeral. If your church has an Adventurers Club or another uniformed group, why not ask them to get some of their members to be a part of this in tribute to a lost lamb. If no Pathfinder’s club, ask some of your older children or your Children Ministries workers to participate. Aim for some uniformity in the dress code. Wear name tags identifying the ministry.
12. Sympathy buttons are common sights at funerals in this part of the world. If your ministry can afford it, pay tribute by printing and wearing a button. Working with the family, choose appropriate images like photographs of the deceased or messages of hope from your Children Ministry printed on the buttons. If you can afford it, make enough to give away to guests.
13. Lots of Prayer. No-one understands our grief more than Jesus. While Bereavement Ministry undertakes all the activities suggested above, nothing can ease the pain in the bereaved family’s heart than inviting God’s presence in their home through prayer. Psalms 34: 18 says, “The Lord is nigh unto those whose are broken-hearted, and of such that are of a contrite spirit.” Pray for the bereaved family members every chance you get. Alone, in groups, with them. Pray for their strength to face what may be their biggest trial yet.
14. Offenders Family gets Support too. I can almost hear your shocked responses (‘What!! Are you kidding me? Why?’) as you read that. But didn’t their father/son/husband kill a mom and a child? They don’t deserve anything. They are related to him/her. Curse them too.
We could argue about all the reasons why we shouldn’t sympathise with these people. But answer this question? While their loss is not as final as that of the grieving family, haven’t they lost too? Could they be grieving too? Most likely. The taxi driver in the case I’ve reported on is now facing several counts of manslaughter, and, if convicted, faces spending probably the rest of his life in prison. He’ll be alive, but what a life. And, what about his wife and children or other family members that he has left behind? Is Christ’s redemption not for them too? Can Christ redeem this man/perpetrator who must now be bearing nightmarish nights of guilt, regret and anguish inside his jail cell? The public backlash can also be harsh on the innocent family of an offender. So, offendors’ family should get support too. As Children Ministry focuses on childre, I’d propose that you work alongside your church’s Family Life Ministry, Personal Ministries, and Prison Ministry leaders to plan an intervention that can help the members of the grieving family on the other side as well.
15. Visit the Dead-Yawd. Many bereaved families have vigils. In Jamaica, we call it a dead-yawd (translation – ‘death-yard’), set-up or wake. Invite your congregation to attend the planned vigil, and if needed, leading prayer or devotions segment which usually precedes the night’s events.
16. Music. Lend a track from your gospel music library to keep the bereaved comforted.
17. Keep in Touch. After the funeral, keep in touch with the family. Invite them to a service at church; ask if you could do a Bible Study with interested family members who are unattached to a church. Call just to find out how they are doing. For those who need additional counselling provide or facilitate referrals to a grief counsellor or your pastor.
Going further with your Cause … Public education
18. Stage a Road March. If careless road use is a recurring problem on the road in your community, send a public message to bring awareness to the problem and get the authorities to pay some attention. Organise and stage a peaceful march at the accident site. Get the assistance of your children ministry team and parents to help make picket signs, write sign messages and participate in the march. Make enough to supply community folks who may wish to join you at the location. Here are some emotionally charged messages I’ve begun to think we may use if we organise the march for the death of the little girl and her mom I told you about earlier:
- “Save our Children. Stop Reckless Overtaking.” (The crash resulted from a taxi driver overtaking a long string of traffic, hence why we would protest this destructive behaviour. If the deaths in your community were caused by speeding, alcoholism, spousal violence, or child abuse, then, target this issue and perpetrators in your messages.)
- “Stop Killing our Babies”
- “Taxi Drivers, What would Jesus Do?”
- “Slow Down. Baby Aboard”
- “Don’t let (Name of deceased child) blood go to waste. Help us Reduce Careless Road Use.
- “Save the Children”
- “Another Mom…Gone Too Soon.”
- “The next time, this could be You (Show photo of deceased). Stop Reckless Drivers”
- “Do not Blink Off another Motorist. He may slaughter your child down the Road”
Check with the Police for permissions and take your group to the site. Sing choruses and pass out flyers promoting your cause or asking commuters to get involved by writing to the Mayor or Member of Parliament about the issue. (For more on this see Write Letters below. Remember to do everything orderly and ensure others stay within conduct guidelines. Keep focussed on your goal, which is bringing awareness to the problem: careless driving, inadequate road use signs, or road repairs, whatever you want the authorities to fix, not to start a conflict with any stakeholder group or the authorities.
19. Write Press Releases. To gain more publicity about your road march and campaign, and to arouse public interest in the matter, send a press release to your local newspaper, radio and television stations. If you get the media coverage, your cause may gain the national spotlight and trigger enough public pressure to address the root problems that have led to your intervention.
20. Social Media Campaigns. Another way to go public quickly is to start a Facebook meme poster campaign against child murders. Using any of the popular meme generators or photo editor web apps, craft persuasive one-liners that are sharable. Check out this link for 20 web apps to get you started on designing your viral Face book picture quotes and posters: Create Facebook posters. You can also send tweets. To learn how to set up a Twitter account for your ministry, church twitter account explains it simply, and to get the down-low on all things Twitter, the best place to go to is twitter 101.
21. Road Safety Awareness. In the same vein, why don’t you also initiate a Road Safety awareness Seminar to increase taxi drivers’ awareness of the dangers of reckless driving? Invite a speaker from the Road Safety Council to give the talk. I would choose the taxi stand because this is where I would find my drivers since the nature of their business takes them from the taxi terminus to the roads. Create a short graphic pamphlet and have helpers from your ministry ready to distribute to the drivers as they stop or drive by. If you are not targeting taxi drivers, as I am, but a community, consider a town hall meeting where you offer your church hall or grounds for the meeting. The important thing is to get the stakeholder group which you are targeting to attend.
22. Write letters.Letters to the Editor of newspapers, letters to talk show hosts. Petition letters to the Mayor, Public Works agencies, Members of Parliament. Get parents and children to sign it, and then deliver it to the relevant public figures or agencies. You can also send your petition as an Open Letter to the Editor to apply some public pressure and ensure transparency.
Each of the ideas I’ve just described for a Bereavement Ministry will not be necessary every time someone dies. It’s up to you to select the responses you most suitable for your ministry, budget and church culture. Nevertheless, if executed with an appropriate blend of love, respect and sympathy, and combined with public outcry and action, these are all tangible forms of support which can aid in a swifter recovery of bereaved family members.
In the end, if your Ministry can convince those who do not know Jesus to give Him a try, then the sting of death may recede faster, and the grave may not seem so final. They will also gain a church community, a bunch of friends they can lean on and renewed hope of eternal life, the gift of Christ’s redemption.
How does your ministry reach out to grieving children and families? Share your feedback and any additions you would make to the list in the comment box below.