Since the COVID-19 pandemic started last year, there have been a record 3.4 million deaths worldwide in 2020 alone. This is the highest death rate our country has experienced since the 1900s, even surpassing the flu pandemic of 1918, as reported in the New York Times.
As a result, more individuals than ever are facing grief this year and will be facing life in a new way for the first time. Further, given COVID-19 guidelines prevented life celebrations, funerals and even travel, many individuals who lost friends and family members during the pandemic were not allotted a very important component of the grieving process.
"There are a lot of people that are upset in the community about how they've had to say goodbye to their loved ones," said Robin Wiley, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Weslaco, Texas. "They were not able to spend those last moments with their loved one. And even some of them weren't able to see them be buried. It was very hard on families and there isn't that closure."
Here are a few tips to consider when preparing how to address your congregation during a time of significant loss.
Recognize the Difficulty
First, it is key to realize the pain, sorrow or even regret individuals may feel. There may be a flood of memories and overwhelming emotions that your church members are facing. If you have difficulty facing loss in your own life, share that with your church and be honest about what you are feeling and how grief affects you.
Pay Attention to the Audience
Be mindful of who your audience is. Taking the great losses suffered by the pandemic, this year especially, consider those who have recently lost a loved one. Remember those who are parents, aunts and uncles, best friends, stepmoms and dads, teachers, next-door neighbors, sisters or foster parents. Developing an understanding of who the audience is will assist in preparing a message that is relatable to all.
Make the conscious attempt to not single out any specific group who may be sensitive due to a recent loss. When planning studies, programs or events for your congregation, try to incorporate variety. Be inclusive by offering events for singles, married couples, widows and parents, among others. Through providing stories that individuals in many walks of life can relate to, people will feel included. Adding personal anecdotes that may be unconventional of typical family structures can help congregants feel welcomed as well.
Remember, it is normal to experience grief, especially understanding that the pandemic may have magnified the feeling of loss nationwide. Be mindful of those in your church and help encourage them in a spirit of gratitude.
Steve Grissom is the founder and president of Church Initiative, a ministry that develops Christ-centered resources that equip churches to help grieving and divorced people. Through Griefshare, a grief support group ministry, resources have been developed specifically to help churches minister to those whose grief has been caused or affected by COVID-19. Learn more at griefshare.org/covid.
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