Letting Grief Come to Church

Five ways to welcome what may feel unwelcome once doors reopen.

It’s been ten weeks now since I last sat in my church’s sanctuary. For more than two months, we’ve streamed Sunday worship online, emailed encouraging weekday devotionals, and texted prayer requests. Our church has worked hard to keep our community connected, but we all feel a similar longing: We can’t wait to be together in person.

While I am genuinely excited for the return to gathered worship and face-to-face interactions at church, I am anxious, too. I know all too well how complicated a return to church can be. Like the thousands of churchgoers who will trickle back as sanctuary doors reopen, our family has endured the complicated task of returning to church with a new, unwelcome visitor named grief.

After my husband’s unexpected death, my children and I found, to our deep disappointment, that the familiar rhythms of our former life now felt strange. School and relationships—even with family and close friends—became awkward and unwieldy. And worst of all, church attendance and ministry, a core family commitment and mainstay of our week, grew sporadic and painful.

Though I had spent almost 20 years in lay ministry, our local congregation felt like the one place to which it was impossible to return. Death had deeply changed that dimension of our life. Our family was in danger of a regression, in the words of Miriam Neff, “from the front row of the church to the back, and then out the door … from serving and singing in choir to solitude and silent sobbing.”

Many grieving people find church one of the hardest places to return to after loss. Some find uplifting worship services jarring in the face of their grief. Some feel uncomfortable circulating in large groups. Others …

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Author: Lilly Kristensen

Lilly is a web and graphic designer, illustrator and co-founder to The Tipsy Red Fox. She was born in Denmark, grown up in Sweden and then moved to Los Angeles, USA, where she lives today.

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