By Matt Henslee
Recently, the coronavirus pandemic hit home. No, we don’t have it, nor do any of my family members, but I knew this was coming: one of my social media friends passed away due to complications from COVID-19.
However, I’ve yet to see something about what to do when one of our members passes away during this season.
None of us were unfamiliar with this happening. Death is a steady part of ministry at all times. But in this season, we need to think ahead to how we’ll navigate a death during a pandemic.
1. You need a plan.
In our state, funeral homes are exempt from many of our governor’s executive orders, but many have limited everything to graveside services. Some have limited those to family only.
So, find out what your local funeral homes are doing and adapt your plan accordingly. Have this plan complete with safe options to offer the family for step two.
However, you plan, you’ll need to bear in mind our current limitations. If you meet, be it online or a micro-gathering, keep the speakers to a minimum.
The more people involved in person-to-person contact, the greater the risk for your community.
2. You need to provide options.
Your plan will need to be flexible, and it should offer the grieving family some options. For example, if allowed, a gathering of immediate-family for a service that’s live-streamed or recorded.
If the family is more private, the recorded option will provide the means to give a link for viewing only to those the family desires. If they’re not, the streaming option can be much like we’re already doing for our worship services.
You could also put the service on DVD for those without internet or the ability to live stream.
Before the pandemic, we had a dear member pass away. The sanctuary was standing-room-only for the service, and they still had many family members that couldn’t come.
We recorded the service for them, made it available online, and their extended family members were able to watch. What’s more, many that were there still return to that service when they are missing this sweet lady.
3. You need to grieve.
There are many sites that you can consider to allow family, church family, and friends to share their grief.
Look through them and choose one that’s easy to navigate and offers means for family members and friends to send their condolences.
Also, for those with limited internet access, include a way for people to send flowers, cards, and meals to the family.
4. You need hope.
One day, and I pray it’s soon, we’ll be able to gather again. I don’t know if that’s weeks or months away, but another consideration is at the end of this season.
Once we can gather again, maybe we can plan “A Celebration of Remembrance.”
This can be a service to celebrate the lives lived by those we lost between now and then, as well as a time of worship where all come together to grieve, celebrate, and hope for our reunion in Heaven.
All of us have walked with church members during times of profound grief, but none of us have done so during a pandemic like this one. We must plan ahead with some options to give grieving families hope.
Admittedly, I don’t have this all figured out. Like many of you, I’m learning to “adapt, improvise, and overcome” as I tread these waters, but I’m also trying to plan.
If you have suggestions to consider, ideas others can glean from, consider sharing them below in the comment section, and let’s work together to shepherd people faithfully in their time of grief.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is managing editor of Lifeway Pastors and coauthor of the book Replanting Rural Churches. He is the husband of Rebecca, father of four princesses, and pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico.