Becoming a Bereavement Friendly Church

For decades death has been a taboo subject, often leaving the bereaved isolated and not knowing where to turn.  But our society is changing; we are beginning to realise the huge impact that bereavement can have - also the potential for unprocessed loss to lead to mental health issues and other negative outcomes.  Increasing numbers of people are seeking help but bereavement charities are already over-stretched.  As lifespans have increased, death has also been delayed, so the number of deaths has been decreasing.  But now we’re at tipping point and the number of deaths is set to rise. The Coronavirus Pandemic has also led many thousands more people dying. 

Churches are natural places to find help as they are in every community and on hand to provide the welcome and support that is needed.  Our churches can also provide stability in changing circumstances of life and opportunities for remembrance and ritual that aren’t easily found elsewhere.  Many churches also have a connection with bereaved people through their funerals ministry.   In addition, the spiritual questions that often arise from bereavement can leave people wondering about the existence of God, the afterlife, and of the purpose of life now.  This presents the Church with an opportunity to help those who are grieving find new or renewed confidence in God and hope for this life and beyond. 

However, although we don’t like to think so, bereaved people can sometimes find the Church one of the most difficult places to be.  This can be because it can be emotional or remind them of the funeral, or because they can be confused about or angry with God, or because unhelpful things, albeit unintended, can sometimes be said or done.   

Through the Loss and HOPE project and this website, we want churches to think how they can provide effective, local support for the bereaved, so that those within their congregations or outside their walls, who have been bereaved recently or in the past, can find new purpose and meaning in their loss.  For this to happen, the bereaved need to experience the goodness of God, sensitivity and understanding through the Church’s ministry.

We are asking churches to consider how bereavement friendly they are.  The content and resources of this website should help churches with this. 

“A church/church group where the effects of bereavement and the journey of grief are understood and alleviated, so that bereaved people in their communities are helped to navigate their difficulties and come to a place of meaning and hope.”

One thing churches could consider is signing up to the charter that AtaLoss.org has created, which is available through this website, and which is detailed below.  

The AtaLoss.org 12 marks of a Bereavement Friendly Church

This involves thinking carefully about 12 marks of what a bereavement friendly church might look like and how a church might implement or improve upon these. The marks are:

  1. Bereavement awareness training being encouraged and/or provided for the church community;
  2. Understanding encouraged across the church community of what it is helpful to say or not say to the bereaved.
  3. A carefully selected and trained bereavement support team appointed with special, but not exclusive, responsibility for bereavement care;
  4. A carefully selected and trained bereavement church lead appointed to supervise those supporting the bereaved and represent bereavement needs in church decision making processes;
  5. Faith questioning expected and appropriately supported when people are bereaved;
  6. Suffering affirmed within the church community as a legitimate Christian experience;
  7. Care being taken to ensure theological messages are helpful for the bereaved; 
  8. A realistic approach to healing conveyed and ‘good deaths’ prepared for;
  9. Signposting to bereavement support services made available to all people connecting with the church;
  10. Special activities provided for the bereaved to support the grief journey and for remembrance;
  11. All aspects of church life reviewed for welcome to and impact on the bereaved;
  12. Provision within the church for those who are mourning to find respite, comfort and peace;

The charter asks churches to commit at leadership level to:

  • considering how well they are doing with these marks and what might be done to improve or implement them
  • devising an action plan for improvement and/or implementation
  • having completed the above and to having commenced their action plan within 12 months
  • reviewing progress annually.

The marks are clustered in 3 groups of 4.  Churches might want to set aside time to consider the 12 marks as a whole, or in groups.  Some will be easier than others and some will need creative, new thinking.  The expectation is that churches will think for themselves what they might do to meet the aims.  

There is no measuring of standards or kite marking of a church’s achievements, but the ‘Charter’ can be provided through this website for churches to sign and display on their notice boards to say that they have chosen to aim to become a bereavement friendly church and to consider the 12 marks.  In addition, churches that choose to sign up to the charter can be listed on this website, so that others can contact them and learn from their experience.  Ideas reported back could, in turn, be added to this website.  

AtaLoss.org hopes that through offering churches the charter, churches across the land might, in turn, inspire other local groups and organisations and become catalysts for bereavement friendly towns and villages.