Is your church equipped to support bereaved young people?

06 JUL 2020
Pete English
Pete English
Project Leader, ListeningPeople

"Many people are accessing support from the church who would previously never have walked through the physical doors! These are both scary and exciting times that we are living through."

Knowing what to say when words are not enough…

06 July 2020

Pete English is the Project Leader for ListeningPeople, a division of Ataloss – a charity which trains churches in bereavement support. ListeningPeople provide training and resources specifically for use with young people. In this blog, Pete talks about his experiences of working with bereaved young people, how churches can support their young community through loss and how COVID-19 will increase the need for this support.

Did I set out to be involved in bereavement work? No. Who would?! 

My mum died when I was 18 months old and I moved away from my two sisters to live with my gran. So, I guess that was my first experience of loss… 

My journey began working with young people within my church, listening and talking through their loss. As I built strong relationships and started to see the impact of my work, I realised this was what I wanted to do full-time.

So I made the leap. I set up a bereavement charity in the UK and then in South Africa and I trained to become a counsellor working in schools.

Grief is a really tough subject, you just want to make things better for the young people you talk to. I take my work home with me every night and it’s hard to forget the heart-breaking stories I hear. Young people particularly; their experiences of grief are most affecting. 

I remember working with a student who had seen their parent die. It was so hard for them to talk about anything related to it and for his family it was a no go area. 

I asked him if he had heard of the expression “There’s an elephant in the room.” I explained that it was as if, in his home, there was an elephant in the room and I asked whether he could ignore an elephant if it was in this room. He smiled. We made an elephant out of Lego - a big elephant! Then we made a room. He understood.

Adults are more likely to understand their grief, plus they have more choices on where they can access support if needed, whereas young people can’t go out and look so easily.

An important thing to keep front of mind if you’re supporting a young person through loss is that young people are still developing into adults so they are still forming their views and trying to understand the world around them. You may find that the support they need is a more indirect approach. 

This is where churches can play a big part. All it involves is being themselves!

It’s not about the latest amazing interactive game, it’s about turning up every week and being there for them, week in week out, whether that’s in person, on the phone or virtually…oh…and remembering birthdays! 

Currently churches are muddling through. The Coronavirus especially has affected us all in our various ways. I have had several youth workers crying down the phone because they feel so isolated and unequipped.

The current situation means that we are likely to see some complex grief - where people have not been able to say goodbye; where they have had no physical contact and whereby funerals have not happened in the way in which we are used to them happening. So grief may be put on hold and this will be even harder for children for whom life is already a struggle.

When things do eventually settle into the new ’normal’ this will be the time when churches will need to be available to listen.

The project I work for, ListeningPeople, provides this support for churches and youth leaders – we have produced a ‘Tough Stuff’ journal, which churches can use as a resource to work through grief with their young community, and we also provide bereavement training and courses. This can all be accessed through the website.

Tough Stuff Journal
We will come out of this and churches are already beginning to adapt. Many people are accessing support from the church who would previously never have walked through the physical doors! These are both scary and exciting times that we are living through. 
There are new opportunities to reach out to our communities and, with the support of these resources and training, you may be able to help make the world a little less frightening for young people going through the toughest of times.  
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