The ministry of consolation

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

It continues to amaze me how clearly I remember the people who attended our son’s funeral in 2015:

  • My brothers’ families from California and Montana who’d just gotten back from their trips to embrace John as he was dying
  • His grade school teacher and principal from Fargo
  • His preschool teacher from Edina
  • His oncologist and oncology nurses
  • A special education nurse who opened her heart to us when John was a newborn in Iowa City
  • Ten members of his all-time favorite worship ensemble from Moorhead

Recently, I saw one of our synod pastors whom I didn’t know well in 2015. I had this rush of emotion, stopped him, and said, “Thanks so much for being there for my son’s funeral.” I imagine that comment was a little out of the blue for him. But, it was very real for me.

Showing up matters. Often, it matters a lot more than we realize.

 

I WAS SO GRATEFUL and proud of our synod members and pastors who “showed up” for last Saturday’s funeral for Stephanie Coltvet Erdmann. And, I gave thanks for the particular ways Stephanie’s family helped us to “show up”:

  • A play area and a children’s sermon to help kids show up and feel welcome
  • A line of more than 20 female clergy gathered as communion servers – a powerful witness to Stephanie’s commitment to gender equity
  • A worship assembly of more than 1,200 and the hospitality of Central Lutheran with the space to welcome them

Dr. Martha Stortz writes from her own experience at the death of her husband: “At its core, the funeral liturgy gathers people together. This simple act of assembly stands as both gesture of defiance and witness to faith. Suffering isolates people one from another. … The funeral liturgy counteracts the centrifugal force of loss. It gathers people to comfort those who mourn.”

I give thanks for how our community has come together to counteract the centrifugal force of isolation amidst suffering.

“Showing up matters. Often, it matters a lot more than we realize.”

And now the suffering continues for all who grieve this deep and tragic loss. And showing up will continue to matter. It will look a little different, but it will matter. We will show up in lots of ways – meals we bring, childcare we offer, cards we write, prayers, hugs. This is the ministry of consolation.

Stortz offers a word for the journey after the funeral, quoting Herbert Anderson: “The mystery of consolation. … It is not ‘What shall I say?’ but rather ‘How much can I hear?’ that will make the difference. If empathy consoles, then listening is much more important than speaking. We need to be able to hear and feel where the ‘wounds hurt most’ in order to transform the isolation of grievers into communities of the suffering ones.”

May God guide and encourage us in all our ministries of consolation. And, may our congregations continue to foster worshiping communities that help us to “show up.”

2018-09-18T19:13:15+00:00September 18th, 2018|Categories: From the Bishop|Tags: , , , , , , |