The loneliness and grief of leaving my home church, at age thirteen, made for a miserable car trip when my family moved from Pennsylvania to Michigan. My grandparents created a sad picture, framed by our car’s rear window, waving as our car and U-haul drove away towards our new life. Normally, my family enjoyed trips, but this time, my sulky, dark attitude made the atmosphere in our 57 Chevy strained and gloomy. In Pennsylvania, my grandfather pastored our smaller church where my family enjoyed special status and showered regularly with gifts, privileges and special attention. I knew that our larger, new church would be glad to welcome my family but we would just be another family, nobody special. I would be nobody special.
When I recall that experience I wonder what it was like for my friends Sheila and Bridgette when they and their children left churches under heartbreaking circumstances. My family moved to our new home and church together, to a better job for my Dad and a larger house for our family. These women and their children, and many others like them, not only lose their churches and often their homes but all of that damage is heaped onto the greatest loss of all, their nuclear family.
Here is part two of Sheila’s story (Part one in previous post) in which she shares specific ideas for churches on how to help men, women and children experiencing a pastoral divorce. Brothers and sisters, we must prioritize the feelings and needs of devastated ministry families over our own sense of sorrow, anger and disbelief whenever a pastoral family implodes. Surely, we can do better, right?
Being There Through Divorce- Part 2
It took the love and acceptance by another church for me to finally forgive and move on. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
I’ve often wondered, what could the church have provided for my family during that difficult time?
An environment of love, understanding and acceptance by the pastoral staff and the church members.
The same kind of care a grieving person receives when going through a tough life situation.
A phone call, offer to have coffee or a meal to make the struggle less lonely.
Support and encouragement for my children.
Sadly, due to the way our leadership handled my situation, my children no longer wanted to be involved in their church.
What can church leaders do to help local bodies minister to divorced families?
Create a safe place. Allow compassion, rather than condemnation, to be the first reaction to a struggling family.
Be genuine and compassionate remembering there are no perfect families.
Think outside of the “family” paradigm when designing ministries and events. Plan for singles and odd numbers of people at church functions. Involve singles in leadership so that different perspectives are taken into consideration.
Jesus said in John 16:33, ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God clearly provides a way to help and restore His people when terrible things happen. He wants us to share that peace.
These are great and much appreciated suggestions from Sheila. The particulars of what these would look like in your church should be pondered if you are in pastoral or lay leadership. I pictured myself walking through Sheila and Bridgette’s circumstances and came up with a few ideas of how I would like to be treated if this happened to me.
Please be patient with me. I’m in shock so what I’m doing and saying might not always be the most Christ-like.
Speak the Word to me for comfort, strength and encouragement but don’t hit me over the head with it. I feel like enough of a failure already.
Help me with the logistics of finding a job to support myself and possibly children, and finding new housing.
If I still want to attend your church, don’t treat me like a leper. I might be trying to keep something familiar and safe for my life and my children. Yes, I will need to step down from ministry for a time, but my husband’s failings should not affect my ability to still feel welcome in your midst.
Remember, I am still me. All the qualities you loved about me are still here. Although they may hide underneath my grief for a bit, every gift God has entrusted to me is still inside me. Let me use them again.
As the sorrows of this world continue to creep into the church, we must revise our paradigms and continually seek the counsel of God to treat people in crisis with wisdom and compassion.