Baby loss services – tips for worship leaders

Every so often, someone calls my office or sends me an email – “I’m leading a service for Baby Loss Awareness Week – got any tips?”

FB-COVER-_BabyLossAwareness-1024x379

They’re asking partly because this sort of falls under my remit as Children’s Mission Enabler – these services are a ministry to families, and often, other children are involved either at the time of the loss or later. Providing a meaningful place to honour and remember the life of their child can create a deep pastoral relationship with a family for years to come. But they’re also asking because they know I’m a bereaved parent myself – my son Isaac died at birth in 2015. So I’ve seen these services from both sides – as a parent, and as a leader. And here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Connect with your local SANDS group. You can find your nearest group here. Not only can they help you plan an appropriate service, they can help publicise your service to families. You may also want to contact local hospital chaplains – many hospitals do annual memorial services and might have some tips, or service sheets from past years you can use.
  2. The service itself should probably be about half an hour long, at most. People may want to stay afterwards and talk – and this may actually be longer than the service itself. Plan for this time and provide lots of refreshments.
  3. Generally, regardless of what else is done in terms of music, readings, remarks, etc., the two things that these types of services consistently include are: a time to read off the names of the babies being remembered (usually before or while people can light candles), and something to take home as a memorial (the Baby Loss Awareness Week pins are good). Have a list people can add their baby’s name to as they enter, so they don’t have to send anything in advance.
  4. The delegate pack from an event we did on baby and child funerals is attached to the bottom of this post – this can provide ideas for readings and music.
  5. You may have children in attendance – siblings or cousins, both before and after the loss. It’s worth considering that this is potentially an All-Age event. Remember in your welcome to include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – “whoever you are, you are grieving a baby you loved today, and we welcome you.”
  6. Some families may have made the awful decision to terminate a pregnancy after a diagnosis, or because of risk to the mother’s health or life. Others may have had to decide to turn off life support. They may be struggling with feelings of guilt, and worried the church might condemn them. Some may be dealing with a loss from decades ago when stillbirth wasn’t considered a “real” loss.
  7. And finally – this will probably be emotionally draining for you as a leader. Plan your diary for the hours after the event accordingly. Whatever is restorative to you, make sure you include some of that. And don’t expect to be able to go straight from a baby loss service to leading a wedding rehearsal, or Messy Church, or a funeral visit, or whatever … take care of yourself.

If you want a more detailed conversation about any of these issues, do get in touch. And please remember, if you are leading one of these services, how much it means to the families simply to have their baby remembered and named. Thank you so much for doing it.

Download: Funeral Ideas for Delegate Pack

Advertisements

Pastoral care of children

I’m doing training on Saturday on the topic of pastoral care of children, and my slides are attached below.  I’ve also done a new Pinterest board on pastoral care and mental health, with lots of resources – do suggest more in the comments.

There are two anecdotes I refer to in the slides, under “the healing power of story,” but which I don’t explain in detail – I will during the training itself, of course.

The first one is from my mother’s ministry, with children from deprived areas of New Haven, Connecticut, in the USA. Many of these neighbourhoods have high levels of incarceration – what sociologists and activists are calling “the school-to-prison pipeline.” My mother ran a Tuesday evening club that included worship, art time, and a communal meal. One day she was telling the story of Joseph, and got to the point where he was thrown into jail on false charges.

“My daddy’s in jail!” one kid piped up.

“So’s my brother!” another replied.

“My uncle …” “My cousin …” the stories started coming thick and fast. The Biblical story of Joseph had given them the starting point to explore a difficult and painful part of their own lives. It gave them a launchpad to talk about what it feels like to be in jail, what it feels like for someone you love to be in jail, what it feels like when the charges are unfair, and whether God is still with you even in those situations.  And it gave the leaders a chance to start looking at how the liberation of an individual which leads to the liberation of the entire people is at the heart of so many Bible stories – Joseph doesn’t just get out of jail to save himself, when he gets out of jail he saves all of Egypt, and his own family as well, who had brutalised him in the past.

The second anecdote is from my own ministry. I was looking at the story of Ruth, and what struck me (love-treepartly from having read Lauren Winner’s excellent book Girl Meets God, which looks in detail at Ruth) was how this story provides a broad and inclusive model of what it means to be a family. It’s a step in the movement away from the purity model of the early patriarchs, when who your father was, and how cleanly your blood led you back to Abraham, was what mattered most, and towards Jesus’s model of, “those who follow my commandments are my family,” and the early church’s assertion that “there is no longer Jew nor Greek … all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Ruth is a woman from a different tribe, the Moabites, and she is brought into God’s Chosen People by marriage. After her husband dies, she chooses to stay with his widowed mother – her family is now one of choice, not of blood. Her second husband is Boaz, a relative of her late first husband, but their marriage requires another kinsman to refute his claim on her. Upon Ruth and Boaz’s marriage, and the subsequent birth of Obed, the family is now: the mother of Ruth’s first husband, her distant kinsman Boaz, his wife Ruth (from a different tribe), and their child. Naomi has a grandmotherly relationship to her son’s widow’s second husband’s child, and the Ruth/Boaz relationship is a mixed marriage. How very modern this all starts to sound! (And of course, out of this family of adoption and choice and mixed heritage came King David … and Jesus himself.)

So as one of the activities, I encouraged children to draw their family trees, and to think about “who do I count as my family?” I asked them to think about godparents, close friends – are they family? How do people become part of our family? Birth, adoption, and marriage are all ways of becoming family. Are there others? What about our church family? What about people who have died, like Ruth’s first husband? Are they still part of our family? How do we keep them close to us?

I was working with a small group of children at the family tree table, and when I said, “what about people who have died?” one girl’s face lit up, and she said, “like my brothers!”

The story gave her a way to tell me what had happened in her family, and she received affirmation that her brothers were still part of her family. She told me their names, we put them on her family tree, and she received a story which connected to her own experiences, and the affirmation that God’s story relates to her own life, and that church is the kind of place where you can process this sort of thing.

Please do check out the Pinterest board and the slides below, and let me know your thoughts, and any resources I haven’t stumbled across!

pastoral-care-of-children