Being Beside Someone Bereaved - Introduction

misty tanglewoodsThe concept of this course has been ‘bubbling’ for some years, fuelled by three motivators:

  • First, loss is commonplace in our troubled world, whether loss through death, divorce, ill-health or any one of a number of other causes;

  • Second, the deep belief that Christians must be active ministers* of God's grace, mercy, love and truth - not just passive disciples who learn how to be good and to do as they are told by church leaders - so what better arena to provide support than when they find themselves beside someone bereaved;

  • Third, an intensely personal reason.  My first wife died suddenly in 1996.  Some people were magnificent in their support; a few (bless them), frankly I could have done without.  And the theology of some words of encouragement and of some of the bits of poetry that go the rounds was pretty dire.  All this points up the need for rank and file Christian ministers (you and me) to be better equipped for the task.

Forgive the personal angle, but it's important in pastoral work to be open about where you're coming from.  Know yourself (so you don't let your deep emotional reactions drive you wrongly), and where appropriate be open with others.  There, a bit of learning already!

Peter Nicholls

* The word ‘minister’ is used in this course to indicate any baptised Christian, not to mean ‘ordained minister’ as might be the case in some church traditions (probably with a capital M).

Before giving an overview of the content of the course, let's think about what it can't, or need not do.  

First, there are a number of books available on loss, bereavement and grieving, some written from an academic standpoint, some telling a personal story.  We will quote briefly here and there, but there isn't time on a short course to do more than that.  Carry on reading if you have the time!  The copyright page is also a bibliography.

Secondly, this is not a course on bereavement counselling.  This is very important.  You must know your limitations and always work within them or you end up hurting, not healing.  What the course may do is to help you to recognise when the normal processes of grieving may have got ‘stuck’.  You can then discuss the situation with someone with more knowledge and experience and consider what to do. But within the bounds of confidentiality (second and third bits of learning!).

Thirdly, like most things, becoming a better pastoral minister means to develop skills as well as learning more information.  Learning to listen well, for example, takes a lifetime.  So this cannot be a ‘done that, ticked the box’ course; it's more the beginning of a long journey.

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