The topic of grief has been on mind a lot lately, and I don’t appear to be the only one. Pastor Laura and I recently returned from our fall continuing education conference put on by the synod where the topic was “Grief: Reflecting on Loss, Love, and Leadership.” And here at Bethlehem we have had over 30 people sign up for our 5-week adult education series on Christian M. M. Brady’s book Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope. So, it would appear that grief is something that is present in the hearts and minds of many people right now.
As a whole, I think that we live in a pretty grief-phobic society. We don’t like to talk about grief, or most negative emotions for that matter. And when we do, we like for it to fit into the narrow parameters and definitions that we have created for it. Like the idea that grief is only something that we experience when a loved one has died. While that most certainly is an appropriate time for grief, that is far too narrow of a definition. Any form of loss can inspire grief – the loss of a friendship, or a job, or even a treasured possession. The experience of loss can be quite nuanced as well. Take the loss of a job for example. Of course, there will be grief if that loss is sudden and unexpected. But there can even be grief in the case of a long planned for retirement. Now that sounds a little counter-intuitive right? When someone says they just retired, the usual response is something along the lines of, “Congratulations! You must love all that extra free time.” And while that might certainly be the case, there can still be great sadness associated with the loss of a position or title, that aspect of your self-identity, and loss of that daily routine and interpersonal interactions that came with it. That joy and grief can mingle and make for a confusing mix of emotions. As with most things, grief is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface.
In addition to prescribing what we are allowed to grieve about, society also has some things to say about how we are supposed to grieve. While there doesn’t necessarily seem to a “right” way to grieve, there most certainly seems to be a “wrong” way to grieve, and people are all too happy to point out to you when you’re doing it wrong (in their opinion that is). Maybe your grief has been going on for too long, or maybe it’s the opposite and people think you moved on too quickly. Or it could be that you’re crying just a little too much, or worse yet, you haven’t shed any tears. Sometimes it seems like you just can’t win.
But in the scriptures, we find amazing permission to grieve, and not in any one set or prescribed way, but rather in whatever way is truest to ourselves and feels right to our own personal situations and griefs that we are experiencing. We have fantastic examples set for us by people like Job, as well as in the Psalms. People whose faithfulness causes them to cry out to God in protest, lament, and sorrow. Because we have a God who is big enough to handle anything and everything that we can throw. We have a God who promises to be present with us in the midst of suffering. And there are no two grief experiences that are the same. No two people who will grieve in the same ways, or for the same amount of time, or to the same degree – even if they are grieving the exact same thing. And that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
So, whatever it is that you are grieving right now, and there’s a lot of things that could be grieved right now, know that you are not alone. You are engaging in a practice that is described throughout scripture. You are doing so in the midst of a faith community that will love and care for you. And you have a God who will walk with you through it all.
Your sibling in Christ, Pastor Sam
Dear People of Bethlehem,
Blessings in this Fall season. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for your faithful giving to Bethlehem, just as we do each Sunday. But in this single letter we send out each fall, it is also time to look together with you, toward all that lies ahead. What will we do together as a congregation to further the gospel in this place? How will we move forward after two years of a global pandemic, to be the church in these new times? How will we extend our welcome to all, and tangibly help our community, and offer hope and healing to all who enter our doors?
One of the ways to discern where we are headed, is to take stock of our core values as a congregation and look at where we have been. Over the past year, there is much to give thanks for, and much that we have been able to accomplish. Just a few weeks ago, we gathered together for Bethlehem Serves, a testimony to the ways in which service to our community is embedded in who we are. We were able to offer in person Sunday School, and our high school students were once again able to go on summer service trip, demonstrating our deep value for education and faith formation. Worship attendance, both indoors and outdoors, has increased over the past few months, bearing witness to the truth that the Gospel and gathered community are central to who we are.
There is no denying that the past two years have been difficult and our ministries have suffered, and we know that the same may be true for you and your families. And yet, we have been faithful, and resilient, and learned much along the way. These lessons will serve us well as we move forward and continue to be a congregation that blesses those within our walls and those beyond our doors.
We wanted you to know, that for the past two years we have ended the year with a budget deficit. The financial impact of those deficits was lessened thanks to surpluses from previous years, but those funds have dwindled. The constraints you feel in your personal budget with the increased costs of gas, food, and many other essentials, have been felt at church as well. Your council and church staff have been wise and careful with resources, particularly over the past two years of the pandemic, but in truth, we need an additional $42,000 annually to meet increased real costs, as well as our desire to reach further into the North County community, and welcome more people into this joyous, blessed faith community.
As the current faithful stewards of the ministry of this congregation, and as we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we bear a great responsibility and a great joy. In our hands, we hold a faithful legacy. How shall we live out that legacy together for the next 60 years? We thank you for all you have personally done with your time and talents to support this congregation. If you, and every giver in the congregation, could increase your pledge this year by $25, $50, or $75 a month, we would be able to balance our budget for the coming year. If you can increase your pledge by more than this, we can do even more ministry. If you, like many in the congregation give online, it can be easy to overlook reevaluating your pledge each year, and yet we encourage you to do so. If you are unable to increase your pledge, or must reduce it, we understand and are here to support you, and the pastors are always available to you. Times are hard for so many. Please also know that the Bethlehem Cares fund can assist you financially. We are here to hold one another up in good times and bad.
Pledge cards will be mailed out to everyone on our mailing list, and they can also be picked up at church. We ask that you bring your completed card with you to worship on Commitment Sunday (October 16). If you are unable to attend, please feel free to return your card by mail, drop it by the church office, or pledge using the secure link below.
As we say each week, thank you for your stewardship. Thank you for your voice, for your ministry, for your giving, and thank you for laying your faith life at Bethlehem. We wouldn’t be church together without you.
Pastor Laura, Pastor Sam, and your Church Council