Laying My Church to Rest

How I learned to process the unique grief of closing a church.

I held my brother’s ashes in my hand. The texture was finer and smoother than my sister’s ashes 18 years before. Hers had been more granulated, with a grayish tone. My brother’s were softer and pale white. Before I slowly circled the 90-year-old maple tree that stands outside my family home in Montgomery, Ohio, I held “him” in silence for a few moments. Then little by little, I spread “him” around the base of the tree.

I stood back and looked up to the top of the tree. I raised my arms, and from somewhere deep in my soul came a wail that had been held back for the year following his death. I let it go and wept, lowering my arms slowly. When the crying ceased minutes later, I felt an unexpected relief that I had finally done what I had been dreading: I had let go of him once more. Now it was clear he would not walk through the kitchen door later that morning. I turned around and hugged my sister-in-law and my deceased sister’s son. We shared a bit of closure for the loss of a brother, husband, and uncle.

Throughout the year and a half since my brother’s death, I have been attending a weekly bereavement group at the Family Centers, Center for Hope in Darien, Connecticut, which has guided me through different levels of the grief process. My participation in the group raised questions about other kinds of losses. What happens when we face a deep loss for which there is no closure, no spreading of ashes or burial of human remains? I’d experienced that kind of grief less than two years before, as the stated supply pastor to close a 122-year-old church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Christmas Day 2016.

Pastoral Identity after a Church Closure

During the months following the …

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