Who would have believed that the untimely and unexpected death of a popular member of a church youth group would provide the genesis for an idea that has come to bless so many people who are suffering with grief? And who would have suggested that people should "come to church with their unresolved griefs" on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas—one of the most joyful days on the Christian calendar?
The following service was adapted from one first prepared by H. Stephen Shoemaker for a service in December 1989 at Crescent Hill (Southern) Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
As I made plans for the service, I found that a secular psychologist who hosts a radio talk show here in Louisville was very open to promoting this service as a tool for helping folks with grief.
In the program for the service I included the phone numbers of non-profit community organizations that offer support to persons experiencing grief: the local Hospice, the 24-Hour Crisis Line, Widow/ Widower's support groups, Compassionate Friends (for persons who have experienced the loss of a child), Al-Anon, and Survivors of Suicide, among others.
"Loss" and grief (in the context of this special liturgy) need not be limited to the death of a friend or loved one, but can include any loss a human can experience: the loss of one's youth, the loss of a job/vocation, the loss of a friendship or relationship (for reasons other than the death of the other person), the loss of income or security, the loss of health to disease and/or disability, and the loss of a pet—all of these and many others are losses that can make the Christmas season especially difficult to cope with.
Think of this service as an opportunity for community outreach, a chance to reach out to persons of all church backgrounds (and no particular church background) who are grieving. The tone of this service should be warm and inviting—there should be no pressure to participate. A time of refreshments and informal fellowship should follow.
Because I and others in my community found the service very helpful, we provided the outline for an Internet group. Since then I have learned of other congregations who have adapted the service for their own use. Princeton Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood, Michigan, put one announcement of the service in the local paper, and forty people from around the community came. Based on the calls and letters leaders of that church received afterward, they plan to make the service an annual event on the Sunday before Christmas. The service below also incorporates some of their ideas.
—David L. Poland
A SERVICE FOR THE BEREAVED
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Welcome and Introduction
Hymn: "On Eagles' Wings" (Michael Joncas) SFL 205
Three or four brief passages focused on God's care and faithfulness (possibilities include Psalm 27, 46, 91, 121, Isaiah 43, John 14, Romans 8, Philippians 4, 1 Peter 1)
The Sharing of the Light
The pastor invites the congregation to light a candle, using words such as the following:
You are invited to come forward and light a candle in memory of your loss, taking the light from the Christ candle.
[Wliile people are coming forward, quiet instrumental music is played based on hymns that will be sung later]
The Sharing of Griefs
The pastor invites all who lit a candle to share their loss briefly, perhaps beginning this time with a personal account.
Our Comfort and Hope
Songs of Comfort and Hope
"There Is a Balm in Gilead" PsH 494, PH 394, RL 465
"I Need Thee Every Hour" RL 443, TH 674
"Because He Lives" TWC 238
"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" PsH 579, PH 403, RL 507, SFL 52, TH 629
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" PsH 493, PH 404
"To the Hills I Lift My Eyes" PsH 121
Prayer for the Sorrowing
(no more than 5-10 minutes seems most appropriate)
Hymn: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" PsH 556, PH 276, RL 155, TH 32