It’s hard to face grief unnoticed in a small church. When a member dies, small churches usually do what small churches do best—take care of one another. Members quickly get the word out, prepare food, visit the grieving family and offer prayers, hugs and words of support. But after the funeral, how does a small church move beyond casseroles and cards in its ministry to those who grieve? Pastor Pat Tony asked herself that question as she looked for a way to provide support to those dealing with the death of a loved one.
When she served at Watson Memorial United Methodist Church in Chatham, Va., Tony sought a grief ministry resource and discovered GriefShare, a video-based seminar for those who have lost someone. Watson Memorial also partnered with Scott’s Funeral Home in Chatham, which co-sponsored the seminar by underwriting the expense of materials.
The video-based series “is not a counseling session,” says Tony, now the pastor of St. Matthias United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, Va.. The seminar offers a combination of video presentations, group support and individual workbooks for personal reflection.
Here’s How Watson Memorial Did It:
1. Small groups work best. Typically four to eight participants plus facilitators attend each seminar. Many participants are not church members, and some drive several miles to participate. The group builds support within itself, and that support “is like someone watching over you in love,” Tony observes.
2. Leaders combine training with personal experience. GriefShare materials provide training to seminar facilitators, but leaders also bring their personal experiences with them. In one group, a leader had suffered through her son’s death. She volunteered to facilitate because she wanted to help others in their grief transition. In another group, a local pastor with hospice experience acted as co-facilitator.
3. The group process makes the difference. Individuals could watch the videos alone, but Tony believes that “the group process makes the difference.” She adds, “People learn they are not alone in their grief” even though their situations may be different. One woman participant “had been stuck” in her grief for more than two years, and Tony attributes the group process to helping her move forward.
4. Promotion is simple and inexpensive. The local weekly paper in Chatham, The Star-Tribune, ran a story about Watson Memorial’s ministry to those in grief. Tony also distributed posters announcing the seminar to churches and businesses in Chatham, and she ran an announcement in the local United Methodist district newsletter.
A version of this article originally appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Outreach magazine.