Friends, please enjoy this post from Gordon Wiersma, a pastor at my home congregation, Hope Church RCA. I invited Gordon to share wisdom he has gained when caring for the suffering so that we may all learn and grow in our ability to Care Well. Gordon also has a wonderful new website The Christian Story, which you can learn more about below. ~ Karen
Guest post by Rev. Dr. Gordon Wiersma
One of the realities I often encounter as a Christian Pastor is to provide support to individuals and households in the midst of deeply painful circumstances. These are tender and challenging situations, and as a Pastor I bring God’s gifts of scripture, prayer, and presence to embrace the people and circumstances with God’s healing love, strength and peace. In my now 30+ years as a parish pastor, there are several aspects of providing care to the suffering that have coalesced for me which I trust can be helpful for others to draw on as well:
- I speak of myself as being present on behalf of others. Although it is very kind for people to express gratitude to a pastor for being present in a time of need, I have come to see the importance of telling people that I am present on behalf of a community of care and prayer. In this way the isolation that suffering brings is embraced by communal love and support.
- I tell people that they are held in God’s grace even if they can’t feel that or believe that. Amid suffering, faith can be shaken, and that unsettled feeling can in itself cause anxiety or shame. But I have found it is very meaningful to express to those who are suffering that I and others are holding faith for a person in and holding them in God’s grace – even if that is hard for them to feel or to believe. This can allow someone even during a disoriented time to feel embraced by prayer, love, and grace rather than having to grasp it on their own.
- I am aware of myself as someone who has also known suffering and care. Although as a pastor I do not usually center my story when offering care to others, I do carry with me a deep sense of how God’s healing grace has sustained me in times of my own suffering. I have had communities of care show up for me in person and in prayer; I have had people hold onto faith for me when it was difficult for me to do on my own; I have felt God’s healing love and peace.
I offer these insights from my parish pastor experience to support all who provide care in whatever circumstances of suffering that you encounter. And what I have shared also provides a way to invite you to explore the new website I have developed: www.TheChristianStory.org. I developed this website from my Doctor of Ministry work (completed at McCormick Seminary, Chicago, in 2019), doing so to offer a narrative of Christian faith which expresses God’s love in Christ through the power of restoration, re-creation and abundant life. I believe what you’ll find that this website will resonate with what I’ve just shared about caring for those who are suffering:
- The resources point to the Gospel story as an expression of God’s love for all people and all creation, in contrast to an emphasis on an individualistic salvation transaction. When we hear God’s presence in Jesus Christ as an inbreaking of love for the whole world, we are able to see our faith as intertwined with God bringing wholeness to all God’s children and to all creation.
- “The Christian Story” brings to light the love of God as a power which reaches into a world and lives that have lost the way of life. To a world held in the powers of brokenness and death, the Incarnation – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ– is a gift from a God who comes to this world even when the world has lost its way.
- This website offers resources for faith formation that are connective to others, calling us to empathy, community and partnership towards what is life-giving in God’s world: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. As faith in our world is too often used to divide, “The Christian Story” recognizes faith as a gift that lets us see all people as simultaneously broken and gifted, as capable of harm and of being a bearer of hope; faith as a gift through which God calls us to join in drawing all people together into the Beloved Community for which God has created this world.
I’m grateful to be able to share these ideas and resources with you as a fellow caregiver and faith journeyer, and as one who has been blessed by the care from and faith in others that have expressed God’s gifts to me. I’m grateful for Karen Mulder as a teacher and friend in my life, and value the resources that she brings together on this site to share the Spirit’s healing gifts.
I’d always be glad to hear your thoughts and feedback as well – you can contact me through the website: www.TheChristianStory.org
Spirit’s Blessings – Rev. Dr. Gordon Wiersma