When pain finds its wings

"How long, O Lord?" Throughout the history of the church, we often have seen that new ministries grow out of places of pain.
"How long, O Lord?" Throughout the history of the church, we often have seen that new ministries grow out of places of pain.

John 20:21 – Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As [God] sent me, so I am sending you.”

Weariness is a reality right now. People are weary of COVID, and all the ways the virus has impacted life. The prayer I hear many praying is a prayer of lament, as they name the losses that are so very present.

The psalms give us examples of what a prayer of lament looks like. It usually starts with the words, “How long, O Lord,” and then goes on to name all of the pain experienced. How long, O Lord, will you forget us.  How long will you not hear the cries of your people. How long will we have to suffer at the hands of our enemies?

If you were to write a lamenting prayer, what would you say?

Weariness is a reality right now.  People are weary of COVID, and all the ways the virus has impacted life. Photo courtesy of Desert Southwest Conference.There are times when a lament is so very appropriate. We miss seeing one another, having worship in the ways we used to do it. We miss the communal rituals that helped us to feel closer to God.  Life has indeed changed, and we do not know when the COVID cases will begin to go down in many of our areas. This is where the pattern of the lament inspires me. In the psalms a lament is not only a place to pour out one’s broken heart to God, but a lament almost always ends with words revealing a trust in God. "But I trust in you, your hand will deliver me.”

It was during one of those my own, “how long, O Lord” prayers that a picture caught my attention. The Desert Southwest Conference Office of New and Vital Faith has connected a good number of our churches with Paul Nickerson Coaching, paying much of the consulting fee to help the churches discover ways to expand their ministries. Paul was sharing ideas from churches he works with: “First Church (U.C.C) in Windsor, CT, invited town members to place a butterfly on the front lawn of the Church in memory of a lost loved one.They got a tremendous response.”

  Pastor Hector Florez and Diaconal Minister Gloria Santiago stand in front of the church they serve in Puerto Rico, Iglesia Metodista Mesón de Amor, which became a community lifeline after Hurricane Maria. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Development Fund. 
Seeing beyond the storm    

Out of the devastation of Hurricane Maria, one United Methodist Church in Puerto Rico shared a message of hope while serving its community and discovered a flourishing ministry. Read more.    

I found myself remembering that often new ministries grow from places of pain. I love the idea that church invited members of the community to place butterflies on the lawn. I began to wonder what the next step would be in that visual lament?  Would the church create a FB group where people could share their grief, their memories, and find a word of hope.  I’m sure a church sponsored FB grief group would need an experienced facilitator, but how many of our churches had grief groups before we were separated from one another? We know how to do this. What would a grief group look like if it was created for strangers, church outsiders, members of the community who were hurting and had no one to talk with?

COVID may have disrupted our lives, but that may not be a completely bad thing. Perhaps if people listen to the pain in their laments, they may hear the voice of God calling the community of faith to find ways to reach new people in a digital format?  This time of disruption invites us to move from prayers of pain to a place of true creativity. This is where new life is experienced, in the moment when God whispers into your spirit a dream about what could be possible, and we say yes to the call.

The Rev. David McPherson, Director of New and Vital Faith, has worked with his team to offer financial assistance for those who may be hearing a voice whispering about the possibilities of new digital communities of faith and want to participate in a workshop. If you are part of the Desert Southwest Conference, you are encouraged to contact him at [email protected].

From places of pain, new ministries are given birth. We are a connectional system and together we will find ways to turn our laments into ministries of hope, healing and transformation. New things are about to happen. Do you not see it?

*The Rev. Susan Brim is district superintendent of the East District in the Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

This story was published on July 30, 2020, with permission from Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.