How do churches and pastors carry on after an immediate family member has died--whether suddenly or after an illness?
I know two colleagues whose wives have died in automobile accidents and another whose young daughter died after a long illness. They were all faithful servants. Their congregations treated them well before and following those tragedies.
Yet, as a friend wrote, “There’s no rule book for church councils to follow for such tragedies, and each pastor reacts differently. Time-off from regular duties—preaching, pastoring, and everything else—must be given, but the duration of that time-off varies by person and circumstance. Continued conversations (using a Pastor-Church Relations team works for some) are necessary, as eventual re-entry is determined, but these conversations are not substitutes for pastoral counseling and constant, sensitive communication between pastor and council.”
Still, despite long-term efforts including most of those practices, none of those three colleagues described above was able to continue long-term in their congregations. I am only partly aware of reasons which come from their perspectives. Their congregations surely would describe some events differently. Regardless, this is what did happen: All three pastors returned to their work, one after weeks, another after two months, another part-time over the course of a year. All gradually worked up to full-time.
Yet after a while in all three cases, "things" didn't work emotionally, spiritually, or vocationally for them and their congregations. After less than a year pastoring again, one took a year-long break in an entirely different vocation overseas before returning to North America and beginning a church planting ministry. The other two moved amicably from their congregations to other churches after receiving calls. Both widowers remarried within two years of losing their spouses. All three have found certain measure of renewed vocational fulfillment, albeit in different places of ministry.
I know little about how the congregations were affected by these sad events or what plans or programs were instituted in order to help both pastors and families find resolution with the least upset possible. I do know that a few people were mean-spirited—critical when the time-off seemed “too long." Most were gracious and patient. Some members, though, did not know how to let the pastors grieve and recover. They wanted their pastors "back" as they were before and criticized the widowed pastors more or less openly when they developed friendships with women whom they eventually married. Somehow the pressures and sorrows of the circumstances all resulted in changes in location for the pastors after a time of what can only be described as partial healing in the communities. All probably would have remained longer had the sadnesses not intervened.
I don't know if there is any way to plan for these catastrophes that are inevitable, yet always unexpected, blows in the lives of God's children and servants. I am curious if you know of and can describe situations (anonymously, please) where such events have turned out similarly--or more smoothly, with less disruption. Grace is amazing, but never predictable.