Recently a friend of mine shared that she worked for a nursing company. It was in the economic interest of the company to get into the hospice care market. The nurses were put on a rotation of patients, however now some of the patients had received hospice orders. The nurses moved through their rounds going from home to home and engaging with different patients as they always had done.
It was a disaster.
The nurses did very well with the regular patients, but were not good for the hospice patients. It all stemmed back to the way the nurses were trained. These nurses were trained to help people recover their health. However, these same nurses were not equipped to work with patients that were not going to ever recover their health. The nurses were not bad nurses but they were the wrong person for the patient on hospice.
The Universal Church faces a similar situation. Clergy are trained like these nurses were – to help churches recover health. But the current reality is that many churches are not going to recover health because the role of church in America is in decline. The Church has congregations who need help recovering health and yet other congregations need a hospice nurse.
Clergy are not equipped to work in churches on hospice and there are many churches on hospice.
I understand that this is a bit of a taboo to speak. Nurses are trained to think in terms of health and not in terms of dying. The irony is clergy have the language of death and the hope of resurrection in Jesus, yet clergy resist talking about churches dying. It is as though clergy forget that death is not the last thing and that resurrection is what we testify to! Could it be that we as clergy have a resistance to talk about dying because we have an underdeveloped theology of hope and resurrection?
The problem of having clergy trained to bring churches back to health is similar to the problem of having nurses working with patience on hospice – there are misplaced expectations, clergy feeling like they cannot midwife the church into the next stages, and congregations are harmed. We as a Church ought to take seriously the questions of what it means to be clergy leaders to an institution that has major sections on hospice.
Will we continue to operate out of fear? Will we re-tool clergy so that we are equipped to this new challenge. Will congregations accept hospice care?
As a people of the Resurrection we ought not fear death. Rather, we hope that resurrection is the Truth of creation and that nothing, life, or death or life beyond death, can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.