October 2019

Dear friends


We are surrounded by people suffering adversity, and you probably have suffered some kind of adversity yourself. I find being a vicar to be an interesting experience, for a lot of reasons which are irrelevant here, except for this, that we often connect with people who are suffering some kind of adversity. We do get to accompany people through times of joy and triumph, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, the excitement of new jobs and opportunities. But one of the privileges of being a vicar is that we are let into very intimate spaces in people’s lives, times of grieving and loss, of sickness and pain.

To be honest, a good policy they say, I am often at a loss for words in the face of adversity, I feel a deep need to help make people feel better, but I know that there is little I can do. I can’t sooth the wrenching pain of grief, I can’t remove the desperation and hopelessness of a chronic illness, my words of encouragement into the dark well of depression and anxiety seems to do nothing except echo what sounds like platitudes. What about our own adversity? How do we treat ourselves when we are confronted with our own illness, grief or depression? I am not sure I have a neatly packaged answer, or even one near completeness, but here are three attitudes I bring which I hope are helpful to people I minister to:

Respect – we need to respect where people are in their lives. Diminishing or ignoring how people are feeling, offering neatly packaged answers (‘Everything happens for a reason’ is one of those, sometimes there is no reason, nor will there every be) or telling them that it will all go away sometime in the future don’t help. When people are battling they can’t see beyond what’s in front of them. This is why I never tell people I know how they are feeling, even when I have had a very similar experience, because I don’t know how they are feeling. Rather than offering thoughts which are more about making us feel better in the face of another’s pain make space for people to share their experience with you. For yourself, respect what you are feeling. Don’t criticise yourself, don’t diminish your experience, let yourself feel and process what’s going on and don’t shut yourself down.

Presence – find ways to simply be with people. A card, flowers, an email are all ways we can make our presence felt if we don’t want to intrude in someone’s space. Sometimes simply being with someone without talking or focussing on their issues can be a lovely ministry to them. If you are unsure what would be helpful just ask. Going for a walk or a coffee, that kind of thing, can be a way of helping people to know they are not alone. For yourself – if you are going through a difficult time reach out to someone you know won’t judge or diminish you. Remember that your clergy are always happy come round for a coffee (tea in Rev Dave’s case).

Kindness – be kind to people who are battling. We may not understand why someone is feeling or reacting in the way they are, but we don’t know what has come together in their lives to bring them to that point. If you can’t be kind better to remain quiet. For yourself – be kind to yourself, no amount of self-criticism and judgment will move you on from where you are. Move yourself forward with achievable steps, find people who will be kind to you. You may have made mistakes, you may have a well-documented list of failures and ‘could have dones’, but it’s where you go from here that’s important. Remember that you are deeply loved by God and infinitely valuable to Him.

Rev Stephen Harrison

The Rectory, Church Lane Leonard Stanley, Stonehouse GL10 3NP

Tel: 07466 858975

Email: rectorstroudwater@gmail.com