The 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
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!
* 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.