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Christian grief charity urges churches to seek training and offer broader support

by Sophie Drew

A Christian grief-support charity has reminded people that it’s OK to grieve for people you don’t know, following the harrowing headlines of recent weeks.  The Christian charity 'At a Loss', which helps people in the midst of grieving find support, is encouraging churches that places of worship have a significant role in helping those who are coming to terms with loss, of any scale.

In recent days, the news media has been inundated with grieving families and stories of tragic deaths - from the Greece migrant boat sinking, to the Nottingham attacks and the Titan submersible which imploded near the wreckage of the Titanic.

It’s believed up to 700 people may have died on the boat carrying migrants – including 100 children trapped in the hull – which capsized and sank off the coast of Greece. 

In another story, a major police investigation got underway in Nottingham, after two 19 year old students – Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar – and caretaker Ian Coates were killed in a devastating knife attack in the centre of the city. Valdo Calocane, the suspect, is also charged with the attempted murder of three others on the same night. 

And the story of the missing Titan submersible – an underwater capsule containing five men on a tour of the Titanic wreckage – consumed the mainstream news media for days.  With limited oxygen inside the vessel, a desperate international rescue effort was launched, and was followed with livestream updates beamed around the world, but eventually the US Coast Guard announced that the sub was believed to have imploded deep underwater, probably days earlier.  All five on board are believed to have died instantly. 

The succession of tragedies was commented on by some, as bringing up strong feelings of sadness and loss, even for people who had no personal connection to those who died.

The Founder and CEO of AtaLoss, Rev Canon Yvonne Richmond Tulloch, is on a mission to better equip churches in bereavement support through their 'Loss and HOPE' project.  She says it’s normal for people to feel a sense of grief, even without knowing any of the victims: “It's a human response to feel sad about stories about other people's losses and things that are going on for other people.

“I think as Christians, we are so much more sympathetic and empathetic, when we hear these stories. However, I think there is something bigger that goes on: 

“When it comes to grief, it isn't just about a sad story that we hear. 

“It also connects with our own losses... I'm often saying loss 'stacks up' with us.

"We've not been good as a culture at talking about grief and loss - we suppress it for ourselves. 

"The things that happen to us... can be buried deep inside, and when we hear the story of something else, it brings some of that pain back to us.”

Canon Yvonne says it’s vitally important that churches play their role in helping congregants grieve - not least because of the Christian belief in Heaven, but also because of the role places of worship play in funerals.

She’s imploring church leaders to seek training and learn how to respond in the most helpful way possible, to grieving members of their communities.

She said: “In all the years that I've been working with bereaved people, I have been concerned about the lack of grief support that there has been for people by churches.
“One of the things that I've often said, when we do our webinars for church leaders, is that the public expects more of us because of our funerals of ministry and so on, than of those outside church and in the public sector.  Grieving people find normal society hard to cope with, because of a lack of understanding. 

She urged church leaders to improve awareness and explore training for staff and lay people.  “They [the public] expect more of us, and... our ignorance over these things actually can make matters worse for them.”

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