What can we do? – responding as individuals and churches

As Christians, along with people of other faiths and none, we have a duty to care for our neighbours, including the sick and the dying. The familiar parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) provides a model for Christian response to acute need, while St Paul (Romans 12:15) calls us to “weep with those who weep”. And yet how often do we feel that we have failed in our response, whether through busyness, self-absorption or – the result perhaps of this being a taboo subject – not knowing what to say? Do we just mutter “You are in our prayers” and move quickly on?

Four obvious ways in which we can respond as individuals are:

  • Through engaging and talking. There is no simple formula that will enable you to say the right thing. But if you don’t know what someone needs, ask them. And do not forget also the needs of ministers, pastoral visitors, chaplains and others responding to those in most need, and of doctors and nurses faced with hard decisions as well as their own feelings. A word of support may be of huge value to them.
  • Through deep listening. Martin Abrams reminds us in his Personal view (link below) that really understanding someone’s needs requires a lot of listening. Only then can you hope to respond to someone’s spiritual needs.
  • Through practical help and support. It is not only the sick and the dying who need help, but also those who care for them. Can you take a bit of pressure off a carer by doing the shopping, providing a lift to the hospital, or helping with their backlog of paperwork? Marie Curie offer a simple list of practical ways of helping.
  • Through prayer. There are many prayer books and resources that you can draw on if you cannot find the words yourself; you could also ask a friend to help by praying with you; and you can leave a prayer on the prayer wall of this site.

Here are some other ideas of things we can do collectively, as local churches:

Engage with your local care home or hospice, and with chaplains in your area who have a particular calling to this ministry. Would your local home or hospice welcome visitors, simple acts of worship, musical entertainments or practical help in the garden? Many have voluntary chaplain teams working alongside full-time chaplains. Could you invite a chaplain working locally to speak to your church at a meeting and share something of what they do, asking what support would help them?

A further step that some churches might consider is Anna Chaplaincy. This started in Alton (Hampshire) with the coming together of Methodists and Anglicans who shared a vision to resource the spiritual journey of older people. The role is not just about ministering to those approaching death, but inevitably includes talking to people about the end of their lives. “Anna Chaplaincy offers hope to those in later life. It is a gracious gift from local churches to promote the spiritual well-being of older people”. To find out more, see the link below.

More radical, perhaps, is the idea of death cafes. The name may be off-putting at first but the concept is simple and practical: “At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death”. While the movement is secular, some churches have taken this up. Alton Methodist Church, for example, has run day events under the title ‘The Final Journey’.

Lastly, for churches that have the ability to organise a large event, an online toolkit and practical guide is available to help you host a day conference on the theme of Christian Perspectives on Death and Dying (see link below). Frome Methodist Church was one of the first to host such a day. The prime focus of the toolkit is on end of life decision making, however the material covers many of the topics discussed in these pages.