By Don Dilmore
The Scriptures remind us that God is concerned about orphans, widows, and strangers. On the cross, Jesus showed concern for his mother. It seems apparent that Mary was a widow by this time. John 19:25-27 tells us, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved, standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took Mary into his home.”
Jesus set an example for us to follow, not only with our own mothers, but with widows we know, particularly those in our churches.
Widows in the Church
You’ll find widows and widowers in most local congregations. God expects us to take care of them. In many cases, our concern will be expressed before the death of a husband or wife. A church member whose spouse is sick or near death may not be able to drive, particularly at night. Some may find it difficult to arrange transportation to and from the hospital. This is where church members can begin giving their support. You can volunteer to provide transportation.
Perhaps a church member who has lost a mate will need help planning the funeral, handling financial details, or making arrangements for relatives who will be traveling. Some churches assign elders, deacons, and others to minister to a group of families within the congregation. If this is true in your church, and you are not serving in that capacity, volunteer your services to the one assigned to the family of the deceased. Don’t leave all the work to the elders and deacons. A meal for the family after the funeral service or other kind gestures can help a grieving family as well.
Following up after a funeral service is an important aspect of ministering to grieving spouses. Although we must respect their privacy, we also do not want to neglect them. Invite a grieving spouse to sit with you in church. Send a cheery card or a bouquet of flowers. Invite a widow or widower to join you for a meal.
One church we were a part of held a yearly banquet for its widows. Including the surviving spouse in the activities of the church will go a long way to help in the difficult time of adjustment.
In the early days of the church, the disciples became concerned about an accusation by Hellenistic Jews that Hebraic Jewish widows received preferential treatment in the distribution of food. The apostles responded, “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3, 4). A need became apparent, a concern was expressed, and a solution was provided.
A couple in our church often invited us to join them for a meal of fried catfish at a local restaurant. We knew this was one of the wife’s favorites. Now she is widowed, so we try to take her two or three times a year to that restaurant for lunch.
Providing Financial Aid
If a surviving spouse is having financial difficulties, it may be time for the church to provide financial assistance or arrange for the services of a financial counselor. If your church does not have a benevolence fund, start one. Set money aside to help widows and their young children. You can also use this fund when a family in the church suffers a medical emergency or other catastrophy.
Be sure, if there are small children involved, that they are included in activities. You may need to pay their way to summer camp or other events that require admission.
Two men in our church who own garden tractors help our widows who like to garden by plowing their garden plots.
Our community provides large recycling bins through our waste disposal company. The bins are quite heavy and bulky. Some elderly people find it difficult to roll these up or down a sloping driveway. If you live near an elderly couple or widow, assisting with a small chore like this may open the door for the gospel. Volunteering to rake leaves and shovel snow can have a similar effect.
Our daughter’s husband found one of the women he worked with to be more attractive, and left his wife. Our daughter said that when she visited local churches after her husband left her, she felt like she had a contagious disease. People were not friendly to her.
Divorced spouses and their children need a lot of Christian love and care. Ministering to them as a married couple is an ideal approach. Otherwise, you’ll want to provide volunteers of the same gender when providing assistance. James says it well: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Making Strangers Welcome
The Scriptures remind us that God “loves the foreigner residing among you” (Deuteronomy 10:18).
A short time ago, just a few minutes before our worship service was to start, one of our deacons walked in, headed for his favorite pew, only to find a visiting couple sitting there. “You are sitting in my pew,” he announced quite loudly. The embarrassed couple got up and moved to a vacant pew. After the service, I introduced myself to the visitors and discovered the husband was a retired minister. They had just recently moved into our community. He asked if it was customary for our church to have assigned pews, visibly taken back by the rudeness of one of our members. This same thing had happened to us many years ago when we moved into a new community. This is no way to show love to strangers.
My wife and I recently visited an older couple who were new to our area. They said they had visited five local churches trying to find a church home, and we were the first ones to make contact with them. They came back the next Sunday and gave indications that they will join with us. The wife of the couple told us about one church they had gone to several years ago. When a new person visited the church, the minister would ask a nearby person or couple to sit with them and make them welcome. We live in a mobile society, and we need to be attentive to strangers. We never know when our friendship with a stranger may result in the person becoming a leader or teacher in our congregation, or if our neglect or rudeness will drive the person away. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
Don Dilmore is a freelance writer in Montgomery, Texas.
Helping Kids Cope With Grief
Encouraging grieving children and teenagers is tough—especially when you’re grieving too. But support from adults makes a huge difference to hurting young people. Let these tips and resources guide you in these murky times.
• Be there to listen, even when they aren’t talking.
• Remember it’s a long process—and be patient.
• Suggest ways to process their feelings, but let them know there are many ways to grieve.
• Let them know their emotions and questions are natural and that they have nothing to feel guilty about.
• If they need professional guidance, help them find it—even if they’re leery of it.
From the Dougy Center:
• How to Help a Grieving Teen
• How to Help a Grieving Child
• How to Help Grieving Children
• “How to” Resources and Booklets