How to talk to someone after a suicide…RevGalBlogPals

Below is a great article on how to talk to someone who has experienced and is living with suicide  With the death of Rick Warren’s son this will probably be a hot topic in many circles.  This article does a great job give advice on how to talk, interact, and offer support to those who are dealing with the suicide of a loved one.

In one of my files I have a great sermon that a minister preached at the funeral of one of his church members who died of suicide.  In it he says, “In that moment _________ lost sight of the promise that was made by God at his baptism, but today we can rest assured that God has never forgotten.”  That has always stuck with me and if or when I am called upon to do a service like that, I will be quoting that exact phrase.

All pastors should be prepared and ready for when this happens in our congregations.  Chances are it will if it hasn’t already.

Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part II

From page 22 in The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors.

You are pastor. (“Exercising pastoral supervision of the people committed to your care, ordering the life of the congregation, counseling the troubled in spirit…”)
The word ‘pastor’ can mean ‘shepherd,’ one who watches over the flock, the congregation.  A shepherd learns to recognize cries for help (even when they sound like anger); a shepherd offers gentle redirection for a lamb going astray; a shepherd organizes life within the sheepfold.


  • Underestimate the tools of your trade: The Word, prayer, and the sacraments.  These are not second best.  Few physicians, counselors, or gurus offer these life-giving things.
  • Think of the pastor’s office as a chance for you to do your own thing.  The ordered life of the church includes disciplined accountability.  In the United Methodist Church, this includes the authroity of The Book of Discipline.


  • Remember the difference between whom you serve and for whom you work.  You serve a congregation, but you work for God.
  • Keep in mind the basics.  People need what pastors provide – a word from God, prayers, dependable sacramental promises, and a church relationship that is lived out ‘decently and in [good] order.’ (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Recently we had a parishioner die.  She spent a long time in the hospital and the family called me and told me that she was given about 24-48 hours to live.  I and my wife were on a date that night and on our way home we both stopped by.  I was familiar with a room like that, my wife was not.  She could feel the energy in the room (she is really attune to such things) and said it was a hard place to be.  I told her this is one of the reasons I feel it is a privileged to be a minister.  It is a privileged because I am invited into that room, into that private family moment.  Prayer with family at the bedside of a dying loved one is holy ground.
We are pastors…if we start to take those moments for granted or leave them neglected, we are the Pastor we swore we would never be.

Meaningful Evangelism

When I was visiting the cathedral in Durham, England I stumbled upon a “Holding Cross”, similar to the one in the picture. The purpose of this wooden cross is to conform to the shape of your hand. It is a tool for prayer and I hold mine when contemplating sermons or in time of reflection. It helps me center and turn my mind to where it needs to be.

After staring and holding it for years I realized how easy they are to make with the right tools. Over the next couple Christmases and birthdays I have acquired those needed power tools and now enjoy making my own. My parents had a cedar tree, we use to climb on as a child, cut down and the wood was left in the backyard. I have taken some of this wood home now and sliced and diced it into holding crosses. The picture above shows two crosses I have made out of that tree. I use them as a ministry tool for people in desperate situations or in times of mourning.

I have found them to be really meaningful to the people that have received them. If I know of a person who is going through a hard time in my congregation we will pass the cross around during worship and have everyone pray over it. I then take it to the people in need and let them know we, their congregation, are with them and lifting them up.

They have been a tool for evangelism as well. A parishioner of mine lives in another city and her husband was dying from cancer. We prayed over a cross and I took it there to him and explained to him what we have done and how he could use it as a tool for prayer if he desired. At his funeral I found out that he passed away with that cross in his hand and his wife now holds it to be close to him and God.

I gave another one to my mom and sister. A co-worker of my mom is going through a really hard time dealing with cancer and does not have a church family to go through this with. My mom’s heart has been breaking for her and she asked if she could give her a cross. My sister recently ran a marathon with Team in Training, a group who raises money for lymphoma and leukemia research. She ran with ribbons pinned to the back of her shirt with the names of people she was running for who are suffering/suffered from these diseases. My mom’s co-worker was on one of those ribbons. During the marathon my sister’s feet started to really hurt and she was to the point that she was almost ready to give up. Then she remembered why she was running, reached back to feel the ribbons, said a prayer for each name, and finished the race. When my mom told her co-worker that story and then handed her the cross that she had prayed over, the woman’s eyes filled up with tears.

I usually have a bad taste in my mouth for evangelism. Only because the first image that pops into my head is a person on the street corner yelling as cars go by. But the most meaningful evangelism I have done is through these holding crosses. When I give them away it is the simple acknowledgment that a person is going through a hard time and they are not alone. I/We love them and God loves them.

It is so simple but has been so very powerful.

Healing is not Curing

In the lectionary verse this week, found in James, there is a discussion of prayer and healing. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.” “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” I am not sure if this is true or not, but I can imagine this is a go to verse for the crutch and wheelchair jockeys in the evangelical healing arenas. I can see Steve Martin quoting this text in the movie, “Leap of Faith

I confess I am nervous about the hocus pocus that goes along with healing, especially the kind that Martin does in the film. I confess that the style of traveling healing ministers is what is in my head when I think of healing. But in our Book of Worship there is a healing service. I have done a couple of these in my ministry as well and it a tough row to hoe because of the stereotypical ideas that come along with it.

Yet as I prepare to preach on the power of prayer and how Jesus was and calls us to be preachers, teachers, and HEALERS, I was drawn to the explanation in the Book of Worship (BOW). I think Ken Carter does a great job summing this up in his sermon on He says “In the book of worship of my tradition, the United Methodist Church, there is an important statement about what healing is and is not. Healing is not magic…It does not replace medicine or psychotherapy…It is not the same as curing…It is a mystery. It is relational: the relation of mind, body, and spirit. Our relationship to each other. Our relationship with God.”

When we hear the word healing we think curing, but the BOW is right, they are not the same. On page 614 of the BOW it says “God does not promise that we will be cured of all illnesses; and we all must face the inevitability of death. A Service of Healing is not necessarily a service of curing, but it provides an atmosphere in which healing can happen. The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God. When this happens, physical healing sometimes occurs, mental and emotional balance is often restored, spiritual heath is enhanced, and relationships are healed.”

Through Jesus Christ we are made whole again. In the Upper Room Jesus showed Thomas the scars from his pain and suffering but he was whole once again. In our fallen world there will be disease and illness. There will be tragedy and suffering. But there will also be healing, restoration, recovery, and reconciliation through the power of the ultimate healer, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

After Pastor

I was talking with another minister in my district about his calling into interim ministry. He walked up to me and said, “Jim, you’re an After Pastor, do you mind if I ask you some questions.” I looked at him puzzled and confused. I’m an “After Pastor”? As he went through his explanation I realized, yes I am, although I never heard of that phrase to describe my appointment.

When I received my current appointment I knew that the congregation had an interim minister but my District Superintendent did not remember why (problem in itself for another post). He thought the minister was sick. Come to find out that was the minister up the street. The minister I was following had been removed two days before Christmas because of an infidelity with the music director. Both were removed from their positions. What was left was a congregation in turmoil and confusion but who pulled together to make it through. After an interim minister for 2 months and then another for four, I arrived, the third pastor in 2007.

My colleague asked what some of the lessons I learned from this experience and I thought I would share some of them with you. I am still living in this process but here is what I have learned thus far.

– Normalcy – I did not make any real changes to the congregation, the structure, or worship for a year. I simply brought back a sense of normalcy to the congregation. After all the craziness I sensed they needed things to be normal again in order to process it all. Doing things ‘as they have always been done’ was necessary for survival and healing.

– Listen to everyone – I sat down with all the heads of committees for one on one personal conversations. I asked them to tell me their story and their perspective. Some of them were hurt, some were happy to see that minister leave, and some didn’t know what to think. Having them tell me their story though enabled them to bring me along on their journey. I did nothing but listen, I did not give advice or make corrections to what had happened, I just listened, a whole lot.

– Build Trust – one of the hardest things a congregation has to do after an event like this is to trust a minister again. Their eyes are now skewed and their ability to blindly trust is gone. During that first year I was able to build trust with the church. They saw I could be trusted and that I only had the best intentions for them. I wasn’t coming in to change them but to love them into the church God is calling them to be. They trust me know and I in turn trust them.

– Give them credit – The truth is that in the UM system these congregations were here long before we arrived and will be around long after we leave. We, as clergy, need to give them credit. All along that first year I told them how proud I was of them to pick themselves up and with God, move past this event. I told them not many other congregations could have done what they had done and survived. Giving them credit enables them to have a sense of pride and accomplishment but also strength. A strength that tells them if they were capable of doing this, they can do anything.

Like I said, I am only into this process for a year and a half now. When I learned about the infidelity I was nervous about how the congregation to me as their next long term pastor. I knew of other situations like this that the minister who followed was a like a lamb thrown to the wolves. What I found was an injured congregation who wanted to be held, told everything was going to be alright, and then picked up in order to carry on their work as a church. I wasn’t trained in what an After Pastor was to do. I simply prayed a lot and listened.

For some more info on after-pastors, go here. I am finding a ton of information now that really would have been helpful a year and a half ago. Any other ‘After Pastors’ out there? What did you learn from your experience?

Extended Family and Pastoral Care

I had a parishioner come up to me this past Sunday, in the receiving line after church, and tell me that he was hurt no one talked to them after his daughter’s knee replacement. This gentleman is an older member of the congregation. His daughter is a member of another church. I did drop the ball and didn’t call to check on them after the surgery. Actually I completely forgot that their daughter was having sugergy due to two of our members being in the hospital.

I have though about this for a while and I still do not know where my pastoral care should lie. I have gone to be with a family as their mother (who is a non-member but the kids are members) was in surgery. I have even tried to meet up with a member while is non-member mother was in the hospital. Where do our pastoral care extended family lines fall?

Do you offer PC for immediate family (the chidlren or parents of members) or even more extended (grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins)? Much of this is situational but is there a rule of thumb out there people follow?