Dear Friends, Here is the rest of Faith's story.
I have experienced the other side of the death of a pastor. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my husband was preaching one Sunday; the next Sunday he was dying; and by the next Sunday, he had been laid to rest. What followed was beyond belief... in or out of the church!
Here are some of the events: I felt led to speak that next Sunday due to speculation, rumors, and misinformation about his death. I just wanted everyone to know what really happened. I was told through my husband's secretary that the D.S. said unless I had completed a Lay Speaking Class, I could NOT speak. Although my husband had had me speak and I often helped with Mother's Day, Children's Sabbath, graduation, and other special services. I had also been his unpaid assistant for many years and had done all his computer communication. I had been a partner in his ministry and spent many hours with him in his church offices.
But I DID speak at both our churches that next Sunday. I felt it would help with the grieving process if they knew the truth. I tried to reach out to members of our congregations and offered to have small group meetings to share memories and loss. I am so appreciative to the 8 people from one of our churches that were kind and caring to me and his children. However, we did NOT have one meal offered or brought to the parsonage. I DID NOT receive condolence cards from them.
Thankfully, we received tons from past members, family, and friends. Although I attended church there for several months, I was basically ignored. I called the Trustees and offered to do a walk-through with them before moving from the parsonage. I cleaned the whole place , so it was spotless; and I donated beautiful furniture that was needed to furnish the parsonage and home office. I made notes of any small repairs. I added those to the same list my husband had given them during the annual walk-through that had not yet been addressed.
Then the interim pastor came. He emptied the church office of all my husband's belongings. He did not ask me if that would be helpful or if I wanted him to. The next week, I found the boxes in a Sunday School room. There was nothing in the bulletin. There was nothing said on Sunday morning. It was as if my husband had never been there. The new pastor never called us or visited me. He did not acknowledge our existence or our grief. He even opened my husband's personal mail. I finally had a meeting with him and his wife. He admitted he had never followed a death like this in his 40+years of ministry. Lord knows, I could certainly tell that. But to this day I don't understand it. I wouldn't be treated like that in the "world."
Kathy adds: Many churches do not realize how much pastors and their families depend on them for support. While we are there, we are part of the church family. As Faith said, you love them, weep with them, celebrate with them--you bond. If you don't bond with the congregation, ministry doesn't really work. Many churches don't realize that we may feel simply cast-off after we leave and those bonds are broken; and it's hard to understand how on one day you are an essential part of the family and the next day you're not. It's hard to understand that some of your friends were only friends of the pastor's spouse and not really yours at all.
When we started out in ministry, more experienced spouses told me that you can't really have friends in the congregation. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, it is largely and sadly true. That is one reason for this blog. Through it, we hope that you will feel heard, understood, and a part of the Church family.