Stand by Me


Stand by Me

The story of the raising of Lazarus in John's Gospel offers a glimpse into how Jesus comforted those who grieved. The people of the village surround Mary and Martha in comfort, so they do not have to grieve alone. Jesus himself grieves and weeps at his friend's tomb before he calls Lazarus back to life. As followers of Christ, baptized into his life and mission, we are shown through his example, to be present with those who mourn the death of a loved one and provide them comfort. For the women and men in the Bereavement Ministry at FBC Starkville, that is exactly what they strive to do.

"I have said that I feel certain that God wanted this done because it didn't set out to be a ministry at all," says Diane Hall, the woman who has been in charge of this ministry since it began. 15 years ago, her husband was serving on the Senior Adult Committee. As they were trying to come up with some ideas for ministries that senior adults could do, somebody suggested the idea of doing casseroles and freezing them in the church. That way, whenever there was sickness or death in the church family, someone could come and get one and take it to the family. The committee, however, was uncertain about how it should actually be done, so Diane's husband volunteered her Community Group.

What followed next would be a series of small events that helped bring this particular ministry to life. After agreeing to discuss the casserole idea with the women in her group, Diane attended a fundraiser for the Red Cross at the Methodist church. As the fundraiser drew to a close, Diane noticed several women had come in and started setting up tables, and after inquiring about what they were up to, she found out there was a funeral and these women were preparing lunch for the family.

So, the next morning, while the women in her Community Group were brainstorming casserole ideas, Diane mentions the Bereavement Ministry at the Methodist church and asks her group if they think it is something FBC Starkville should do. They all agreed and Diane decides that she will mention this to Clifton when she meets with him about the casserole idea.

"I was not thinking me, or even our class, but I thought maybe the church would do it," Diane says, chuckling to herself, "and I was going to put it on Clifton. But when I went up and told him he said it was a great idea and wanted to see what I could do with this."

 Diane will tell you in her own words that she doesn't consider herself to be an executive-type person or terribly organized, but as she was thinking about it, God gave her a way to organize this ministry. So the next Sunday, she set out to recruit other Community Groups, explaining what she had in mind and leaving behind a sign-up sheet for those who might be interested. She had an overwhelming response from the women in those classes.

Over the years she has refined the process, learning first-hand what works and what doesn't work. When there is a death in the church family, the church office calls Diane. She then checks with the family about what they would like and works out every detail. A menu is created, and Diane calls the contact person for the Community Group on rotation to give them a list of what is needed. Unless the funeral is late in the afternoon, the women get to the church around 9:30 in the morning to set up tables with tablecloths and decorations and to finish preparing and warm the food as it is brought in. Marilyn Laird Henley, who has been with the Bereavement Ministry as long as Diane has and is her right-hand woman, says they want to make the room as pleasant and welcoming as possible, so people feel like they've been invited into someone's home.

"Because everything has fallen into place like this, I am just totally convinced that this is God's ministry and we have had so many families that say this meant so much to them," says Diane, recalling one funeral in particular as an example. A funeral was being held for an elderly woman who, years earlier, had sold her home and gone to live with one of her daughters. When she died, she was brought back to Starkville to be buried next to her husband. And though the family was small, they had no place to go or home to gather in. One of them confessed to Diane that they would probably have just wound up at McDonald's.

The work done by the Bereavement Ministry gives families a place where they can all be together and visit for a while, and it takes the stress and worry off of any one person to play host and make sure everyone has enough to eat and everything goes right. "It is such a blessing to those grieving, especially the ones that come from out of town or don't necessarily have a church that they call home," says Marilyn Laird Henley, "and is also blessing for the older people in the church to serve because they see the need for it and know that they have the time now that they're retired. And many of them have lost loved ones themselves, so they know how much it means to be served in this way."

Being a volunteer in the bereavement ministry can be a hefty commitment, and members can spend at least 5 hours at the church setting up, serving, and cleaning up afterward. But Diane says it is the most gratifying thing she has ever done. "I have said, and I firmly believe that there is not a single, solitary person that works in this ministry that does it out of a sense of duty," she says, "They do it because they want to and because they see the need for it."

There are currently 6 or 7 community groups on rotation, but Diane would love to have more, especially some of the younger community groups. If you or your community group would be interested in being a volunteer in the bereavement ministry, you can contact Diane Hall at (662) 323-4910.

Christine Ellis