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Burial of the Dead: Funerals in a Time of Pandemic with Pastor Laura Phillips

In our new series, Pastoring in Pandemic, we’re highlighting successes and struggles, sharing creative ideas, and discussing the harsh realities pastors face when church can’t physically meet. We’ve asked our Moses Cohort pastors to talk about how they’re innovating to reach their congregation and beyond.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all mercy and the God of all consolation.” How do you conduct a funeral during a pandemic? How does a pastor provide care to a grieving family when no more than 10 people can meet together? I asked Moses Cohort Pastor Laura Phillips about her experience conducting a funeral during Covid 19. Her responses reveal the deep care pastors provide to grieving families and how that care looks different during this time of social distancing.

During the beginning stages of Covid-19 in South Dakota, an older congregant of Pastor Laura’s church passed away. In addition to the regular emotion of a funeral, the family couldn’t receive the typical care from their church community. There wasn’t an organist or piano player at the service, no lunch in the fellowship hall, no hugs and handshakes because no one extra could attend the visitation or funeral, no friends brought a meal to share. The typical ways we grieve together as the body of Christ look different now, and it left Pastor Phillips wrestling with the dilemma of providing substantial pastoral care and keeping everyone safe.

“It’s difficult to feel like I’m providing good pastoral care,” Phillips explains. “I did all I could do. I couldn’t do anything differently, but it’s heartbreaking to see the family not able to grieve with the community. The family didn’t have that cloud of witnesses around them.” Pastor Phillips shared this wisdom for those grieving and for her fellow clergy, “Be kind and gentle with yourself.”

While social distancing requirements will eventual end, but the significant role of the pastor and the church community, especially during times of grief, remain.

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