The Hardest Day of My Ministry to Date

And also, probably (because of that), my best.

This morning was supposed to be back-to-sunday school day, a time to focus on kids and sing “Jesus Loves Me” and talk about how Jesus wanted the little children to come to him. And we did that. For about fifteen minutes. And then the kids left the room and I asked my congregants to put their bulletins aside, and I gave the sermon of my life (soon to be uploaded) in the midst of the worship service of my life.

I began by explaining what had happened, because some had known for nearly 24 hours and some had no idea: the grandson of one of my congregants, a young man of 24 with a long history of mental illness, fatally shot his father (my congregant’s son), a county legislator, multiple times, and then killed himself. The bodies were discovered by the wife/mother of the victims Saturday morning.

Then we sang a hymn. “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”

Then I read scripture. Isaiah 43:1-7 and Romans 8:31-39. I read the hell out of that scripture in fact.

Then I talked. I let people voice some response and nods, but no one seemed about to jump up and speak, so I continued, talking about the questions and the pain and the anger, tying in the anniversary of Katrina and 9/11 and all the people in our church facing difficulty right now, telling people it’s okay to be pissed off at God when bad things happen to good people. I told a couple of really powerful stories about bad things happening, and the miracle of forgiveness or healing or strength being the presence of god–rather than the hand of god working in the tragedy itself (we’re full up on platitudes here; sell that ‘it’s all part of god’s plan’ crap somewhere else). Then we took prayer concerns. And people shared stuff I never thought they would. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Then I did something I never do: I gave an altar call. I invited people in great need of prayer to come up to the altar and for others to stand with them, and I invited people who couldn’t come up to just stand or wave and others would come pray with them, and we prayed. A lot. The man who’d shared a really personal heartache came forward, and my husband and another congregant stood with him. I had a request to change the closing hymn from my planned “Amazing Grace” to “Here I Am, Lord,” which is sort of my congregation’s theme song.

When the service ended, I got the best comments I have ever received:

“Perfect. Exactly what needed to happen.”
“I have never been more impressed in my life.”
“We’re so glad you’re here, but you should be somewhere else. More people need to hear what you just said.”
“That was the most moving service I’ve ever been to.”
I also got an email that I’ll post separately, because I want to keep it forever.

In the afternoon I visited first with my congregants (the mother/grandmother and the sister-in-law/aunt), and brought as much comfort as I could. One cousin said simply, “it’s just good and calming to talk to someone who isn’t crying.”After dinner, I went to talk to the immediate family, who has asked me to do the memorial service. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever had to do, to try and just be there with that family in such a horrific time, but I did it. And I nearly had to pull over and puke on the way home, that’s how much it hurt.

But for the first time I am sure that I did everything exactly as I had to and was meant to and needed to and as it could have and should have been done. For the first time I am sure that I made a huge difference, if only because I wasn’t crying or spazzing out or offering empty platitudes. Just being there helped. People always say it does, but this time I actually saw it.

5 Responses

  1. [...] church, I was approached by the two women from the family involved in last fall’s murder-suicide. They asked me if I was allowed to express personal beliefs in a sermon, or if I had to tread [...]

  2. [...] experiences of this past year for me in my ministry was being with a family in the midst of a very painful crisis. What do I believe in the face of a family that prayed for healing and reconciliation and hope and [...]

  3. shalom becca:

    wow! my blessings to you and the people who worship with you, and to all you said about “bad things happening to good people” AMEN! shalom, al johnson, pastor, mooers, ny umc

  4. [...] was a lot of pain in that room. That, combined with a discussion at UMCommunities, has me thinking, yet again, about being mad at [...]

  5. [...] days, good weeks and bad weeks. But I remember that there are dark nights that lead to dawns, and crises that give us opportunities to come together in loving community, and a God who is present every [...]

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