Church's ministry to those who've lost a spouse: The opportunities, challenges

By Emily Stimpson

From Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, June 26, 2011

The apostle James made it all seem so simple.
In his canonical epistle, he wrote: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before our God and Father is this: care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (1 :27). Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
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But it's not. At least not necessarily. Just ask those in the Church charged with carrying out one of those tasks ministering to the widowed - and they'll tell you that honoring that command isn't nearly as simple as it sounds. In fact, they'll likely tell you that honoring it happens to be one of the Church's more difficult pastoral challenges. How can something that seems so simple be so hard?


Unchanging needs
Answering that question starts with understanding the needs of the widows and widowers themselves, the needs that the Church must strive to meet. Two thousand years may have passed since S1. James first endorsed caring for the widowed, but when it comes to the spiritual needs that such care is designed to meet, not much has changed. To start with, those who have lost their spouse still need help coping with grief. "You haven't just lost your spouse," said Steve Smith, who lost his wife four years ago to a sudden illness and now helps lead a group for grieving spouses in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. "You've lost your future. VVhat you thought was your future is gone. You've also lost your past. My wife was with me 40 years. There aren't many people who've known me that long."

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