Many are struggling with grief from the loss of loved ones both from COVID-19 and other causes. For the safety of others, we cannot gather and console one another in the ways to which we were accustomed.
This was all too real at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City as Rev. Stephanie Kendell, executive pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church, yearned to comfort the grieving in her community. But she came up with a tangible (nonelectronic) way of being present with the sorrowing, and, with the help of her congregation, put it into action.
She writes, “It was to offer some incarnate love during a time of social distancing and grief. Meaning this isn’t something that is emailed. We serve, love, and are loved by an incarnate God through Christ Jesus, but during this time of social distancing and isolation, God can feel a bit distant. And the distance is never more palpable than in solitary grief,” she said.
“People say we die alone – but we were never meant to grieve alone and unfortunately that is what this pandemic has forced us to do. So, I thought as a form of pastoral care for my c/Church, I would create something that might help our communities and God’s people grieve in a way that felt more communal.”
To that end, she created a small kit that is mailed to the grieving person. A simple box, card, handwritten note and candle arrives via the postal service.
“For the loved ones in my life that have passed, I still have their funeral programs and little moments from the service, so I knew I wanted it to be something they could hold and keep. But I also didn’t want it be too much to mail. So I thought ‘a card and a candle.’ The card shares condolences on one side and a ‘Personal Service of Remembrance’ on the other. I didn’t want these moments of grief and loss to go by without being acknowledged, so I thought an at-home personal liturgy may be helpful. That way it can be done by any one at any time.
“The very first person I knew who died of corona virus was a shock to my system even though it was expected. So, one night I couldn’t sleep and I did the service at 3 am, and it helped. I have heard from so many people that we have sent them to how helpful they have been in naming and living into this time of grief and that it has made them feel less alone. And that’s what church is meant to do right?”
“The candle is a scent we created about 3 years ago for Park Avenue Christian Church. Since your sense of smell is your dominant recollective memory, I hoped by lighting a candle that smelled like church would help our members feel like their church family was present in this moment with them. For those that aren’t members, it’s just a lovely candle that hopefully now they will associate with love and care.
“I have heard back from almost everyone that I have sent them to and the response has been so humbling. People feel seen and loved in a time when many of them feel alone or forgotten. This has been one of the most meaningful pieces of outreach ministry that I have ever done.
“Grief is so lonesome and this has made it feel more unifying and communal. I just hope (the recipients) see this as an extension of God’s love during a time when God’s people can’t be close.”
Kendell is also current first vice moderator of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org