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the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

Death and taxes

“In this world,” said Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Tax we hear of in every other news report and every other discussion, but death?  Taboo; don't mention it in polite conversation.

Meanwhile, the husband of an acquaintance of mine has just died in a terrible accident and my own experience reminds me of the variety of comforters one meets at such a time.  People who are simply lost for words.  People who talk about anything other than the subject that occupies 110% of your mind.  People whose encouragement bears no theological scrutiny.  People who try to ‘cheer you up’.  And this is just the fellow Christians.

Against a belief in the ministry of the whole people of God, the baptised acting as agents of God's grace, mercy, love and truth, the tragedy of this is two-fold.  Firstly, everyone finds themselves alongside a bereaved colleague, friend, neighbour, relative or acquaintance every year or two: what a need, what an opportunity.  Secondly, if this ministry is left to the paid, public or ‘official’ ministers, they will drown - there's simply too much death around to leave it to that few.  Surely we need to ensure that all Christian believers are equipped and empowered to be alongside those on the bereavement journey?

To this end, a new CCL course Being Beside Someone Bereaved starts in January.  It can’t turn learners into bereavement counsellors, that’s not the point.  Indeed, it will stress that one needs to know one’s limits – this is about hand-holding on the natural journey, not seeking to sort out bereavement that’s ‘stuck’.  But it can remind people that denial, anger, bargaining and depression are all perfectly normal stages through which the bereaved pass on the way to acceptance, in whatever order.  And that every loss is different – ‘normal’ is a plural, not a singular – so “I know just how you feel” is an absolute nonsense.  That anyway, talking is of much less benefit than listening, listening, listening: attentively, compassionately, thoughtfully.  That hope offered has to be real, rooted in Godly truth and graspable by someone whose pain obscures the horizon with impenetrable dark clouds.  That practical help is of great value – and that it often comes in abundance during the first two weeks, leaving you on your own once the funeral is past.

So I wrote a card to the acquaintance (one can’t receive too many of them) to express empathy and to assure her that, though it is a long, tough, difficult journey, God is equal to it even if she doesn’t feel she is.  And I will seek to pray for her through a period when she may feel totally disconnected from God.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

PS  Benjamin Franklin (“... death and taxes.”), entrepreneur, scientist and statesman, is perhaps less well-known for his efforts at self-improvement and his list of 13 virtues.  His autobiography gives details.  You might like to ponder them, the process he used and how it seemed to fail.  Then look at the box, top right, on Christian holiness: a very different approach.

‘Holiness’ sounds like hard work. ‘Holy’ sounds uncool. ‘Holiness’ sounds a bridge too far for overstressed, 21st Century person -  something for later.

But what if it's about doing different rather than doing more? About wholeness? About engagement with the world rather than detachment? About letting God do the work rather than struggling oneself?

Have a look at the eLearning class Called to be Holy.

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