Religion News: Sharing Grief, Healing and Comfort at Hillsboro Baptist

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Jesse Erwin’s sudden death started his parents on a path to understand grief and to learn how to help others suffering from a loss.

When Chris and Rita Erwin suddenly lost their 18-year-old son, Jesse, they started down a path they hadn’t chosen and didn’t expect to follow. Their journey has taught them, though. Chris said: “I’m not a professional counselor, but I do know a thing or two about grief.” He learned that even on good days, a routine thought or sight could overwhelm him. “I call these ‘ambush’ moments, and they can come out of nowhere.”

Surrounded by love and comfort from their church, Hillsboro Baptist, Chris and Rita were determined to find a way forward with hope and optimism. It wasn’t a straight line, though. “It particularly hurt when people told us we needed to move on,” Chris said. “How do you move on from something like this?” He knew they meant well and tried not to react with anger. 

Many things helped: their abiding faith, a new granddaughter, counseling, and the support of friends and church members. Both parents knew they wanted people to talk about Jesse, and they welcomed memories, photos, and stories from people who had known their son. Finally, they discovered “GriefShare,” a weekly support group sponsored by more than 15,000 churches worldwide, where those suffering a loss learn Biblical concepts for healing and find tools for maintaining hope in the future. 

Despite being open and forthcoming about his loss and his sorrow, Chris felt a huge sense of relief when he sat with others who had experienced major losses. “I could finally cry,” he said. “We could all cry without fear of making others feel awkward.” He pointed out that Jesus cried when he learned of the death of his friend Lazarus. 

GriefShare’s founders knew that a structure would be helpful to members wanting to look at their grief in new ways, so they designed a curriculum that offers video seminars, group discussion and personal study exercises. Group leaders have all experienced both grief and healing. The Erwins found it so helpful that each of them went through the 13-week cycle twice.

Their experience, both with their own grief and with the GriefShare sessions, led them to want to help others who struggle with sadness, loss and despair, so they proposed leading the seminars at Hillsboro Baptist Church. At the first meeting, the group talked about picking out the helpful emotions from the tangle felt by those with a major loss. Chris compared it to a ball of rubber bands, all different colors. “We feel such a jumble of feelings,” he said, “but that’s okay.” Part of the hard work of healing is to pull out the emotions that don’t serve us and concentrate on those that do.

Other sessions deal with what’s normal, what to expect on your journey, how grief affects your relationships, figuring out why you’ve been singled out for loss, feeling guilt, feeling stuck, paying attention to the lessons of grief, and identifying reasons for hope and life. “No two people will have the same experience,” Chris said, “but there are many things that we all have in common.”

The session, which began August 14, will continue through early November, meeting weekly on Sunday evenings at 5 at Hillsboro Baptist. There’s no need to attend each session, Chris said. “It’s designed so you can jump in at any time.” Just show up at 5 at the church sanctuary, or call 434-484-2204.

Small Blessings

The Gazette heard from Lisa Bell of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that hundreds of pencils, pens and other school supplies, along with thousands of sheets of notebook paper and many new backpacks were delivered to the church as part of their back-to-school effort.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church asks potential vendors for their popular Christmas market to register by Oct. 1.   

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