3/19/13

Entering into the sacred space of grief


     This  St. Patrick's Day started off with a big bowl of sugary Lucky Charms cereal, a great Sunday morning youth service, a lunch meeting at church and a corned beef and cabbage dinner at my mom and dad's house.  Then I got the text.  The text every youth worker hopes to never receive. One of the youth group students is in the hospital and it doesn't look good. I look at my husband and tell him "We need to go." After packing up the diaper bag and getting the kids in the car we head straight home. I kiss my loved ones and jump back in the car for a drive to the hospital. While I am driving I get the text...he died. 
    I find the hospital, find a place to park, and walk up to a line of crying teens and somber looking adults outside of the entrance to the ER. Here I am, their brand spankin new youth pastor. I've only been their youth pastor for two whole weeks.  How I got here and why I left a staff position at a thriving student ministry with hundreds of students is a whole other story.  The short version is a desire to spread the awesomeness of where I was (with more staff than we knew what to do with)  to a new church ripe for growth with limitless potential, but not as many resources and staff as we had back at SMCC. It was time to spread the wealth. So there was me, staring into the sad faces of teenagers I have only begun to know. Thankfully our middle school pastor was there, and she (note I said SHE...this crazy awesome Southern Baptist church has no gender issues) is a face the kids all know and love. 
     Also present, was the welcoming sight of their former youth pastor, who went on to a new and exciting position at a well known church in the area. The old youth pastor...tall, loud, funny, bald guy and the new one.  Not so funny. Not so tall and not so bald. What I learned while standing on the outside circle of grief looking in, is this: It's the long time volunteers and parents of the teens who are invited into the sacred space of grief. The ones who've been there all along. The youth ministry volunteers who were there before me, and before the other youth pastor. Who are likely to still be there after me. The moms and dads too. They are  the ones who've been there week in and week out through all the staffing changes. They enter the sacred space of loss, of grief, of real ministry. The rest of us stand outside the sliding glass door, on the concrete sidewalk, huddled with students who are all in a state of shock and disbelief. 
    In the sacred space of grief, deep inside the ER, behind the curtain and the closed door, is Bart. A man who is old enough to be my dad and has grandkids of his own. He and his wife and been loving on teens for years. Faithfully leading high school small groups in their home, driving kids to youth events, taking the youth group on camping trips and to youth conferences. Making "Shifter Shamrock Shakes" with the teens every year for St. Patrick's Day. He is present as students from the Eastlake lacrosse team come in and say goodbye. He and another youth group parent stay with the mom and dad who have just lost their son. With the little sister who just lost her big brother. These are the ones who get to be on the other side of the door.
    A multitude of students, families, church staff, youth pastors from the larger body of Christ and countless others have pulled together to show love and support for this family and for the teens in this community. All so important and so needed. Yet, it's a great reminder to me as a youth pastor, that in these moments, the value of a team ministry shines bright. The ministry of volunteers like Bart and Connie, and youth group parents who shoulder the burden and lighten the load of loss as our students grieve. They open their homes and enter the sacred space. When we equip others to do the work of real ministry, ministry thrives and happens with or without us. A reminder to me, that regardless of who is listed on the back of the church bulletin as youth pastor, it's the team of people serving our students who offer lasting pastoral care in times of unexpected tragedy. 
    Sadly, my home church of Shadow Mountain also experienced tragedy this St. Patrick's day as a church family was struck by a drunk driver on Sunday. Thankfully, only the drunk driver was killed, but this family (the mom and 3 children where in the vehicle) has a long road ahead of them as they recover from serious injury. So be praying! Too much craziness in one week, hold your loved ones tightly! 
The real heroes of youth ministry = faithful volunteers  




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