It’s not often my 12 year old son and husband are united in their response “Who spends their weekend thinking about death?!”
I was off to the Ammerdown Centre to attend ‘Just Passing Through’, a retreat led by Sue Brayne. We explored the themes of death & dying, and on the Saturday evening we were invited to take part in a death café.
It was an inspirational experience (honest!), so I was thrilled to discover that the Church of England has a new resource called ‘GraveTalk’ (Church House Publishing), which enables lay people to offer a safe café space to talk about death.
For centuries the church has been central to people’s experience and thoughts around dying, death, funerals and bereavement. Pastorally, we are there for people as they face death, and there for them as they plan funerals and grieve. ‘GraveTalk’ creates opportunities to talk about these often taboo subjects in a relaxed and sociable atmosphere.
“I loved the discussion cards and thought the tea and cake idea makes it an informal way to talk. Great way to open up a good conversation about many of the issues around death. I liked the way it was done in small groups with one ‘leader’ which avoided one person dominating a discussion. Gave me lots to think about.”
‘GraveTalk’ is designed to be organised by the local church, and can be held in a hall, a home or a real café – whatever the venue, cake is essential! It is suitable for any age group, and is open to people of all faiths and doubts.
The idea is that a small team hosts the event, using the extremely informative facilitators’ guide. There is a pack of 52 specially written open questions which get people talking about death, dying, funerals and loss. For example, ‘What was your first experience of grief?’, ‘How do you feel about being asked to wear bright colours at a funeral?’, ‘What does a roadside shrine mean to you?’ or ‘If you could ask one question of someone you love who has died, what would it be?’
These are conversation starters – the sessions are not intended to be bereavement counselling, or a lecture by experts, or a platform to expound particular doctrines or philosophies. It is a time of supportive listening and sharing of thoughts, questions and experiences, letting the conversation flow naturally.
“The conservation starter questions were very varied. Some I looked at and wasn’t sure that they would work, but oddly they did. Different cards led the chats along some amazing lines of thought. Very well constructed.”
Having shared my enthusiasm, I was invited to lead a session in January to introduce this resource to fellow LLM’s across the Bristol diocese, when we spent the weekend in Torquay for fellowship and exploring our diocese focus on ‘Creating Connections’. It was a little daunting, as my colleagues have been licensed many years more than me, and some have an extensive funeral ministry (no pressure then!).
Although we were talking about ways of connecting with our communities, the best way of learning about this resource was to experience it ourselves. As a result, we had a time of deep, honest and vulnerable sharing, ending with a prayerful reflection focused on the wonderful verse from Psalm 56 ‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.’ (Psalm 56:8)
“A really good workshop – an eye opener and wonderful opportunity for conversation and discussion.”
“Interesting to see Grave Talk in Action. Important subject to talk about.”
There was an overwhelming positive response from the group about ‘GraveTalk’. We shared laughter and tears, learned about where you can (and can’t!) bury people and touched upon long forgotten experiences. It was definitely something we felt would be useful in engaging and supporting the communities we live in, and I have already been asked to share it with a home group and as part of training with a pastoral visiting team.
“Had heard about ‘Grave Talk’; now I know what it is, I’ll take it back to our bereavement visiting team. Thank you.”
I am passionate about the role an LLM has being out in the community, at the edges of the church, bringing God into everyday conversations. Strangely, I don’t currently have a funeral ministry, but ‘GraveTalk’ seems to me to be so much more. Enabling people to have conversations about sensitive subjects, which are often difficult to raise with family and friends, is a wonderful pastoral opportunity at any stage of life.
I think that it will also be a useful resource as I visit and support four church schools in our benefice – the questions are so well-crafted they can easily be used when talking to young people in RE or ‘circle time’. My faith in the love of God and the risen Jesus, as well as my experiences of bereavement, have led me towards this new path, and I am excited to see where it leads.
Draycot Benefice, North Wiltshire