Back when 9/11 happened, one response was full churches. Grief, along with anger, confusion and shock flooded our lives and, in the weeks following, many people sought out the church.
But soon, the pews were back to normal. The newcomers who came left as quickly as they arrived. They did not find what they needed, so they evaporated.
Are you speaking to the deepest needs of the people around you?
Our second Covid Christmas is here, bringing with it the U.S.A. deaths approaching 800,000. (More than ALL the battle causalities in ALL our military history.)
Grief over personal covid losses in family, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances is real. We are also grieving the loss of unvaccinated lives, and pandemic deniers both here and around the world.
We are also grieving over the loss of life in the social unrest, the school shootings and the systematic racism that is present in so many ways.
We are grieving over both a changing present and a changing past, a time of political chaos and an emerging economic scene that is filled with inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, workplace changes and disrupted Christmas plans.
We had hoped it would all be over by now. But we are still caught up in a whirlwind of conspiracies, “alternate facts” and mistrust that is both chaotic and heartbreaking.
Continual stress wearies us and we share a “grief load” without the time to weep over all the loss that this pandemic has forced on us. And now the consequences of that emotional “load” is becoming clear.
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General released a 53-page report on Tues., Dec. 8 focused on the “devastating mental health effects” being experienced by growing numbers of our young adults.
Emergency room visits involving suicide attempts for adolescent girls rose 51 percent in 2021 over pre-covid 2019! And similar symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled globally during the pandemic. (New York Times, 12/7/2021)
The report further details that “mental health issues were already on the rise in the U. S., with ER visits related to depression, anxiety and related issues up 28% between 2011 and 2015.”
We are all overwhelmed by a tidal wave of grief.
What message will your congregation hear from you this Christmas?
What is the “good news” being shared with all our families and neighbors?
Will it address this “new normal” of soul-stress? ... of continual “bad news?” ... of grief? Do they know where to turn?
Have you helped your congregation to face the grief they share, and what they might do about it, together?
They may be active in on-going Homeless and Poverty ministries, but are they addressing their hunger for God’s presence, for God’s answers in a world coming apart, for a “holy-ness” in their lives and the reality of God’s presence bringing meaning, love, and healing. (That’s what “heaven on earth” means, right?)
For example, they could be organizing...
- Regular Congregational Prayer Vigils.
- Opening Church facilities to neighbors for “socially distant” Birthdays, Anniversaries, and family gatherings.
- the staffing of Youth drop-in centers for recreation, counseling, questioning, fellowship and prayer.
- Sermons, Pastoral letters, and all congregational messages that honestly address our grief: addressing the denial, disbelief, guilt and pain; the waves of anger, bargaining, and depression it brings.
- leaders to publicize small group gatherings (zoom and in-person) to help people share their fears and anxieties and see new directions.
- “Radical Hospitality” invitations to surrounding neighborhoods that create friends who support, rebuild and heal together.
- Deep moments of God’s presence and holiness to allow people the quiet, quality time to engage and know God better. (By the way, the traditions and liturgies of the church are great for this: “Longest Night” and New Year’s Eve Services of confession, deep grief, and hope.)
- Messages of “Grief understanding” on social media.
- Personal letters to isolated individuals.
- Christmas and Christmas Eve messages to repeat the theme of grief-sharing so that no one is left out.
- to Distribute written resources: single sheets, inspirational memes, and short essays on dealing with grief. (The classic “Good Grief” by Westberg is a small but powerful book study.)
- to Share regular “grief-oriented” streaming messages that can be forwarded to friends and family.
- Music selections in worship and in Christmas concerts that help deal with grief.
- to form a “Grief Disaster Response” team for now and for the next few months that invites not just church members, but church neighbors as well.
Remember, this grief and anxiety is culture-wide and needs repeated attention. Pace your volunteers and yourself for the long haul by wrapping these outreaches in the unconditional love of Christ and the forgiveness that only God gives.
For all this is the truly the greatest, deepest gift of Christmas, the “Good News” of the unsettling incarnation of Holy Jesus into our lives.
This is the light of heaven shining through the church, offering use the amazing grace, the presence of God in a heavenly presence.
This “Heavenly Presence” is not just for some indefinite time in the future, it’s for right now.
Christ invites us all to the table of acceptance, and it is spread on the “porch of heaven.” It’s there that we become “citizens of heaven” (Phil 3:20).
Jesus has made real the Good News (the Gospel) that the “realm of God has come near,” (Luke 3:2), “the time is fulfilled,” (Mark 1:15). “Now is the Year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:19)
And so, as citizens of heaven, we proclaim what God has already done for all of us and for all creation through the gift of Christ, the Messiah.
We lovingly affirm that we are at the mercy of disasters and pandemics nor of the anger and violence of those around us.
We live fully aware of a spiritual commonwealth and not a materialistic world filled with “stuff” and lacking meaning.
We are challenged to retool our congregations into a loving and forgiving array of small groups, each willing to welcome the stranger, offer safety, comfort, and healing, as well as challenge each other to explore the reality of God’s heaven in authentic ways together.
In our present time of confusion, grief and anxiety, God has given us a chance to rise above the insistent divisions, persistent distractions and destructive passions of the world and speak of “Heaven on earth”.
We are empowered to speak of a foretaste of eternal life and love, of people growing deeper in love and perfecting their understanding of God, day by day.
We are becoming a people who really care for others in God’s unconditional love, seeing individual differences and various gifts, using them to grow closer in the Faith, Hope and Unconditional love of Christ.
And so our lives increasingly preach to the reality of grief AND the healing gift of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus.
Proclaim it every way you can, follow up with solid, common-sense ways of help.
Make it real by training leaders to organize new spiritually accountable small groups that honestly deal with the pain overwhelming us all.
Renew the vitality of the Methodist movement with faith and action in this time of greatest challenge.