Grief During This Time of Transition
On the evening of December 12 at Crossfire in Butler, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi gathered together WPA clergy to confront the collective grief and pain felt by many in this season of disaffiliation. Rev. Lynette S. Moran, a Deacon in WPA, delivered a presentation during this gathering examining grief and how we can work our way through grief. She compiled that presentation to share beyond the clergy session.
Rev. Moran is a PhD candidate researching individual and collective grief, especially in the context of social change. She will defend (complete) her dissertation on grief and the UMC in 2023. She has served in Texas and WPA settings including social service, hospital chaplain, and associate pastor.
How We Grieve
We understand grief in a variety of ways. There are also understandings of grief that focus on specific aspects of loss (i.e. disenfranchised grief). Approaches to grief generally fall amongst three broad understandings of grief:
• Meandering lines
: About fifty years ago we thought of grief in phases. We realize now that grief is not five stages. It rarely has a straight course to the finish line – or a finish line at all. The experience of grief includes a variety of emotions – sadness, anger, desolation, shock, relief, hope—and more. Emotions can occur in clusters and in contradictory ways. There are twists and turns, disorienting loops, and unexpected avenues of discovery that may come softly or in gushes and waves.
• Continuing bonds:
We continue to carry those people and relationships we value, even when they are seemingly lost. Most of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one or witnessed loss in our congregations – we know this feeling of continued connection. Our bonds will continue even as our relationships break or transition—our relationships to each other, to our congregations (and as our churches change in connection to each other). Our bonds will look different– in all their joy, frustration, hope, and challenge – but our bonds do not end as siblings in Christ.
• Narrative and meaning-making
: As we put words to our grief, it helps us make meaning of our past, present, and future. When we experience a loss in life – a lost job, a death, a lost friendship – we adapt that story over time. How we talk about a loss and how we understand its impact changes in real time and over time as we grow, process, fester, and/or heal.
Observations From Research
• Spend time with your story. Grief is more than an isolated experience. It is part of your – our – whole story. Grief connects to your history with church, your faith, personal struggles, the compounded heaviness of COVID, how you learned to express emotions (or not), etc. Some things that impact us include our history, family, theological perspective, personal attributes (i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), and status (i.e. lifelong Methodist, provisional candidate, etc.).
- Ask questions:
- What emotions am I experiencing? Why?
- What have I lost that is so valuable?
- What have we lost that is so valuable?
- Why do these things matter to me?
These questions can help you explore what you’ve lost and what you value. We also have the opportunity to walk alongside our congregations as they recognize their history, local context, and losses.
• Our words matter. Clergy are people of power and position. We impact people in our pews – and people not in our pews – as well as other ministry contexts. Especially when grief is present, our words carry more power than we realize. We help set the tone for our churches and what they become.
• Care for yourself
. It is exhausting to witness and experience grief. No one is exempt. It takes its toll emotionally, psychologically, physiologically, and spiritually. Seek appropriate care. Lean on rituals, liturgy, small group accountability, counseling, and other avenues of support and reprieve. Intentionally offer these in your church settings.
• This is our story... but be careful not to linger
. Our grief – the pain and loss – will always be a part of us as United Methodists, Methodists, and Christians. This grief will bind us always as siblings in Christ. While this loss and change will always be a part of our story, it need not
always be a place we must linger. Dwelling in grief can offer reflection, insight, and healing. Those dark places can also leave us stuck. Psychologists use the clinical term of complicated grief when individuals are struck immobile in their daily lives because of their grief. Be alert for lingering that crosses the line from helpful processing to uninspired commiserating or righteous naysaying.
Elements from our December 12 meeting are ways we can facilitate awareness, healing, and moving forward. Name your loss. Feel your loss. Rest on ritual and relationship. When you’re almost comfortable, ask these questions discussed at our clergy gathering:
• What do or will you grieve in our traditions and relationships as change occurs in the UMC?
• What does this time of transition – this time of disruption – give us?
•How will we adapt these losses into our new routines? What will relationship and connection look like?
These books and online resources approach grief, pain, and healing from a Christian perspective. There are hundreds of books on a variety of grief topics. Please contact Lynette (email@example.com) for recommendations specific to your circumstance or need.
• Berns, Nancy. 2011. Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us
• Holmes, Barbara A. 2021. Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village
• Jones, Serena. 2019. Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.
• Park, Andrew S. 2004. From Hurt to Healing.
• Pohl, Christine D. 2011. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us.
• Rambo, Shelly. Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Aftermath of Trauma.
• Taylor, Barbara B. 2015. Learning to Walk in the Dark.
UMC Discipleship Worship Matters:
Episode 53: Facing Grief and Loss - Worship as Pastoral Care
Episode 54: Facing Grief and Loss - A Personal Journey
Episode 55: Facing Grief and Loss – Waking into Life
Episode 76: When There’s Trust in the Room
UM Global: Theology of Mourning and Hope
(3 part series linked on site)
UM News: Oasis Fellowship (TX)