he pastor is out of town, so could you come over? Mom just passed away.” These were the words I heard on the other end of the line in my first ministry assignment as a part-time youth pastor. I was working a second job outside of the church and was attending seminary at nights. I felt that my few seminary courses and few months in this new ministry assignment had not adequately prepared me to handle this kind of situation. The woman on the phone attended the church where I was serving. I had never met her now-deceased mother, nor had I met most of the family members who would be gathered at her home during this time of loss. In fact, my first thought was, Isn’t there someone else we need to call? Instead, I told her that I would be over shortly.
I remember telling my boss about the situation, and thankfully, he told me to go immediately and take as much time as I needed to minister to this grieving family. I really don’t remember driving there, probably because all the way there, I prayed and wondered what (if anything) I would say or do. I arrived before the ambulance or the coroner did, so I was greeted by people who looked shocked, sad, and even afraid. Some family members were kneeling beside the deceased woman’s bed, weeping. Others were talking quietly in corners of the room. Still others were just sitting or standing silently. I stood beside the woman who had called me, since she was one of only a few people I recognized.
Though I had been to several funerals in my life, this was the first time that I had been in a room full of grieving strangers who were looking at me as a pastor, and I assumed that at least some of them were hoping that I could bring some comfort or order to this time of shock and grief. I had no words (unusual for me), and even the words I managed to share with those who talked with me were not very memorable. In fact, though I remember much about that visit, which occurred over 25 years ago, I cannot recall a single word I said. However, after staying with the family until the body was removed and somewhat awkwardly gathering them to pray, I went home. While I was on my way out the door, the daughter of the deceased woman thanked me for coming. She said that although the senior pastor would preside at the funeral, she hoped that I would attend, since my presence had meant so much to the family.
When my pastor got back into town, I told him about the experience, and I apologized for not really saying or doing anything very “pastoral.”
“Being there was the most pastoral thing you could have done,” he replied. This helped, although it puzzled me at the time. In the more than 25 years since that day, my pastor’s words still come to mind every time I have the opportunity to minister to those who are near death or grieving. This issue of Grace & Peace seeks to assist ministers who are navigating our role as those who comfort the mourning and who shepherd people in times of death and grief. May God guide us as we extend the love of Christ and the hope of resurrection.