MACON — Funerals bring sadness. Stories are shared of the deceased. Photos arranged show times from the past. Family say out loud to each other how they need to get together more often and not just at someone’s passing.
Bellevue Baptist Church doesn’t claim to have invented a ministry focused on bereavement. But like other churches they experience their share of funerals. And in those times, they’ve developed a process of hosting grieving family members while providing an opportunity to celebrate a loved one’s life.
“We open up the church and provide a meal for any church member who loses an immediate family member,” says Pastor Jim Duggan. “This gives them the chance to just be together in those times with family. They don’t have to worry about hosting a large group at their house, getting the food together, and cleaning up.”
So, on that day the family in mourning picks up another extended level of kin from the folks at Bellevue. Everyone knows Peggy Webb will bring her deviled eggs. Willie Calanchi will show up with her coconut cake. Willie’s husband, Ernie, will drive to the local Publix with Bill Griffin, whose wife Barbara chairs the committee to get enough chicken for everyone. Assorted casseroles and vegetable are going to be there, too. Leftovers will fill Styrofoam plates to carry home.
The committee – consisting of five couples and three individuals – plans the meal and makes sure enough will be there for everyone. Word gets around in the tight-night fellowship to get food to the church on the appropriate date.
A time for crying, a time for being together
Duggan has performed 29 funerals in his three years at Bellevue. He’s seen the bereavement ministry’s efforts assist in dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“You hear family stories about that person. Instead of a preacher talking about them, the testimony comes from their relatives. It’s there in the interactions and the times they shared. You see first-hand their impact on others through fond memories.
“There’s usually a lot of laughter. The time of crying and deep grief is the funeral. The time at our church is one of being together and remembering.”
Thought the committee handles the logistics, the ministry itself becomes church-wide. Food arrives from everywhere. Should the family choose to not have a gathering at the church, a donation is made to Bellevue’s building fund in honor of the deceased.
Duggan may learn something about his church members as well. Last October the pastor and others came together to celebrate the life of church member Iris Crews. Iris’ husband, Ron, served on the search committee that eventually called Duggan to Bellevue. Still, Duggan had no idea Mrs. Crews – a Memphis, Tenn., native – had once gone on a blind date with Cybill Shepherd and Elvis Presley.
A minister, ministered to
A year ago, Duggan felt the impact of the ministry personally with the death of his mother.
“She wasn’t one of our church members, but they took care of us. My aunts and uncles who don’t live in Macon commented on how meaningful it was for them. It made an impression on them to see a church care for their pastor like that.”
Though not the case with his family, Duggan points out the impact such a ministry could have on unbelievers attending a relative’s funeral. “Every family has that member whose lost his or her way from the Lord. You never know how an expression of love and concern can bring them back.”
And for those such as himself who are unaccustomed to receiving such kindness, he testifies to its impact.
“It was comforting for me, yet uncomfortable. It’s unusual for me to be the recipient. The tangible display of love and care for my family was very touching. It’s one of the reasons I love my church so much.”