Lament! Essential for Good Grief
Lament! Essential for Good Grief
by Albert Bogle
Albert Bogle, minister of Sanctuary First, writes about the importance of lament as we respond to this time of uncertainty and upheaval in the church.
I think not enough attention has been paid to the hundreds of thousands of people who have given up on Sunday worship, not because they no longer believe but because they have been made spiritual refugees for various reasons. The present round of Presbytery Mission Planning being carried out in the Church of Scotland, instead of adding to our numbers may be depleting the flock who attend Sunday worship even more. We need to find ways to ensure that no one feels they no longer belong to a worshipping community.
I want to write this piece because I believe we need to leave space for grief and lament within local communities in the midst of all the re-structuring of presbyteries and realignment of congregations. The legacy of past ministries including times of fellowship and family rights of passage need to be honoured and time given for these to be celebrated. What is seldom talked about and can only be experienced by those who have encountered the loss, is the feeling of communal spiritual bereavement. Ending well may be more important that starting well.
Packed into our worshipping psyche are all kinds of memories and feelings brought about by time and space. Collective experiences of God’s presence in our midst heightened by the presence of others who have shared the same journey. The arena or receptor for like experiences can never be recreated or regained or even replaced. While this is true of all life-changing encounters, the loss of a spiritual home is a long sorrow and deep grief. Finding new communities of fellowship get harder as people get older.
Those feeling hurt and bruised by the current presbytery mission planning process must be allowed to lay down and share their burdens of disappointments with grace and dignity. Not only those who have tried to offer solutions within the process to our crisis but also to those who have become what they might describe victims of the process.
Regardless where you stand on the issues of presbyterial reform, I think we all need to agree that we have a great many more hurt and wounded people in our church communities due to the reforms being carried out. Many people feel they have lost their spiritual home and are carrying a resentment towards the decision makers within the Church of Scotland. All of us need to guard against a ‘them and us attitude’. There is in fact within presbyterianism no ‘them’ only ‘us’. If one person is hurting we all are hurting. What makes it worse is that the people who were closest friends no longer are around to be a support and encouragement to those who most need it.
The sense of abandonment felt is real as is the pain and bereavement experienced. It is not only psychological, it can be physical. It is not just congregational members — ministers are also feeling the strain, trying hard to keep their focus while feeling a sense of anxiety for the future.
All this needs to be understood as part of a larger diaspora of Christians who would long to find a spiritual home but have become disconnected from traditional church attendance.
People find themselves spiritually homeless for a variety of reasons. Here are just some:
- They may have disagreed with the leadership within the church and been forced to leave.
- They may have moved house and have been unable to connect with a local Christian community.
- They may very well be part of a large group of people who Josh Packard and Emily Hope in their book Church Refugees call the “Dones”, these are people who have been up to their eyeballs in church work and suddenly discover what they are doing no longer resembles what they believe to be building the Kingdom of God. So they walk from church and become motivated to serve God in other ways within the community in which they live.
- There is another large group of Christian people who feel like refugees in Scotland because they have equated church with a building and for whatever reason the building they worshipped in is no longer a church, so they find themselves joining the long list of people who feel disenfranchised from the Christian worshipping community.
So what are we going to do to support and encourage each other through these difficult times? And how can we go about mending relationships that have been strained for such a long time? I have no easy answers, certainly no one answer fits all the hurts that are around in our church. Yet there is one thing I know we can all do is to begin to be kinder to each other. To reach out and lend a listening ear to the person who has a different perspective. There is a biblical precedent for God’s people to engage in ‘lament’ to talk about and share what has been lost, and then look to discover the new thing God is doing in our midst.
Talking about this at a recent Sanctuary First Board meeting one minister suggested a series of “Good Grief” conferences. A chance for people to tell the story of their community, bring photographs, share their faith stories, and then begin to move on and start considering what the future shape of church might look like for them. Perhaps for those going through this time of grief, presbyteries should appoint a minister to be pastoral to those who feel like homeless refugees. Could there be a place here on Sanctuary First where such a person could minister?
To make a start on this I’m delighted to share that Rev Neil Urquhart and Dr Steve Ainsthorpe will be hosting a series of podcasts in early January here on Sanctuary First dealing with the very subject of ‘Good Grief.’ Look out for the podcasts. Neil says:
"…as well as lament (owning and expressing the pain) we hope to hear stories of people and congregations taking courageous and creative steps to let new life and fresh expressions of church to grow from the bleak black soil of a lamentable winter. Sometimes it is while in pain that someone manages to continue into courageous creativity. Sometimes the stages of grief can all come at once or are mixed up. Meanwhile if you think this blog post is relevant to your situation we’d love to hear your comments."