Layman’s hurt, anger & honesty give rise to church’s crisis min

by Lonnie Wilkey, posted Thursday, July 08, 1999 (19 years ago)

McMINNVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--When Frank Stacy's wife, Inez, was diagnosed with an incurable liver cancer, the Stacys were surrounded with love and concern from friends.

When Inez Stacy died, her husband received comfort leading up to and during the funeral.

Immediately after the funeral, however, the phone calls and visits stopped.

Stacy, a deacon at Gath Baptist Church, McMinnville, Tenn., has since learned that it was not intentional, but nonetheless, he was hurt and angered by the lack of contact he received from his home church.

He began to read books on death and the grieving process. In addition to learning where he was in the process, he began to get a better understanding "of what other people should be doing but were afraid to do."

Instead of letting his anger drive him to leave the church and never tell anyone why, Stacy addressed the deacons three weeks after his wife's death and told them his concerns and how he felt about their lack of response.

"They were upset they had not done anything," Stacy discovered. He also realized he may have "gone too far" with the deacons and he later apologized. In additional reading, Stacy learned it would have been appropriate for him to call his friends and tell them he just needed someone to talk to. "The main thing I found I needed was just the presence of someone -- someone you can talk to, share feelings with, and not feel uncomfortable with," Stacy related.

Stacy also discovered that what happened with him was not unique to Gath Baptist Church, but is symptomatic of churches of all denominations in general. "People just don't know what to do or say," he said.

"What we experienced with Frank was it was not that the members did not care, but it was they didn't know what to say," said Ray Gilder, pastor of Gath Baptist Church and bivocational ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

"People want to be involved, but they are afraid they will say the wrong thing," Gilder observed.

"We're a stronger church because Frank confronted us with our failure," Gilder said.

"We responded with repentance," Gilder continued. "We realized we made a mistake and wanted to keep it from happening to someone else."

The deacons then began to discuss what they could do in terms of ministry to others who would face crises.

Stacy, who has since remarried, was willing to step in and do his part to see that no one else in the church would have to go through a similar experience. Out of those discussions a grief and crisis ministry team has evolved at the church. It is chaired by Stacy and currently numbers about 10 others, including Stacy's second wife, Marie.

The church has had one training event and more are planned, according to Stacy and Gilder.

Team members are learning what to say and what not to say during this training, the two men said. "By reading and studying, we can help people more," Stacy said.

In addition to death and bereavement, the team will deal with those who have experienced a divorce, those who are terminally ill, people with family members on drugs and alcohol, those who have lost their jobs, those who are victims of a natural disaster such as a fire or tornado, and those involved in accidents.

"There is a lot of hurt in people's lives," Gilder said. "Unless we make an attempt to get involved with them in their grief, there's a good possibility they will fall by the wayside and we won't know why we lost them."

Stacy readily admitted he was one of those who almost fell by the wayside. "I was on the verge of dropping out."

Gilder said the whole experience has made the church more sensitive.

"We can't keep people from having crises and problems, but we can be there to help them through it," the pastor said.

As for the grief and crisis ministry team, there is still a lot to learn, Gilder acknowledged. It will take practice and teamwork, he said, adding that the team will honor confidentiality.

The team will try to match members with someone who is experiencing what they have already gone through. "We want to put people together so they can share and interact," Gilder said.

"There is no quick solution to grief,” he said. “This is an effort for long-term involvement and support."

One of the team's primary tasks will be to visit and, when possible, such as in a death, provide a resource. The church has a pamphlet on "How to Grieve," which a team member will personally deliver. The church also is acquiring books on topics such as grief and placing them in the media library for people to check out as needed.

"We're just getting started. We want to minister to people in crises and help them deal with grief," Gilder said.

"We have a lot to learn, but there are so many folks who have to struggle alone. We want to make a difference and be there for them."

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