Being the church when the world is crumbling requires speaking comfort.
When the world is crumbling, everything is harder than it should be. Routines become more complicated. Chores become more stressful.
Sometimes, tasks are simply more difficult because of external limitations. Because of geographic constraints, because the line to get into the grocery store wraps around the building or because work must be done in a new space using new technology that doesn’t work in clutch moments.
Sometimes, tasks seem impossible because of a dearth of emotional energy; because fatigue makes it utterly impossible to remember details or make decisions, because the barrage of fear and uncertainty and more bad news is debilitating, and executive functioning gives up and goes home.
People are raw and weary. And quite possibly furious.
Weary and desperate people often turn to comforts that are fleeting; we, perhaps, feed our grief, drown our grief or entertain our grief with screens or self-pity.
And into this desperation, the church has the awesome responsibility of proclaiming comfort, but not just any comfort.
The church must avoid the types of platitudes that confuse reality with fate, that describe sorrow as something that God designed for our lives.
Pain is not a test of faithfulness or something that must be endured in God’s time, and we cannot even promise that everything will be OK – soon or ever again.
Rather, the church must speak comfort that is rooted in things that are true about God’s love for God’s people:
- God created us.
- God knows even the numbers of hairs on our heads.
- Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
- God does not grow weary.
- God is merciful.
- God’s love is deep and abiding.
- We are never, ever, ever alone.
These promises are of such import that they must be amplified and prioritized. If the choice is between updates about the budget and words of comfort, choose comfort.
If the choice is between details about new procedures and words of comfort, choose comfort.
In communication with the church family, speak comfort. In messaging to the community, speak comfort. To staff and volunteers, speak comfort.
To those looking for complaints on which to focus all of their anxiety, speak comfort. To those whose grief rivals Job, speak comfort.
This is, perhaps, a critical moment to remember the church is made up of its people, that the church is more than an institution or its religious leaders.
If “being church” requires speaking comfort, we have the opportunity to engage in new ways of speaking comfort to each other and into the grief of the community.
We have the opportunity to equip our people to be bearers of comfort and to be thoughtful about the words we speak and what they reveal about the God whom we worship.
Here are some ideas for shaping words of comfort:
What new ways of speaking comfort might your church explore during this time of physical distancing and isolation? Amid other community crises? How might your people engage with each other in new and powerful ways amid new limitations, new hurts and new fears?
We have the opportunity – indeed, we have been called for such a time as this – to speak with the certainty that we are never, ever, ever alone.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” saith your God.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on exploring how we might be the church while the world is crumbling. The previous article is:
Mary Elizabeth Hanchey is the Parish Associate for Pastoral Care at United Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she lives in Durham with her family. She is the editor of “Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss.”