Sunday, Nov. 7 is Orphans and Widows Sunday.
Mike and Jackie Kelley were childhood sweethearts who married during college. When he died four years ago, Jackie said she missed the closeness they shared, knowing so much about each other.
Daria Wilson, whose husband Stephen died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year, knows that feeling too. She has and missed sharing life with Stephen since his death.
“We have 19-year-old triplets and it is hard to [not] be able to share experiences, like Parents Weekend at Troy University with our daughter,” Wilson said. “We have talked every day for the last 25 years and I find myself reaching for the phone just to tell him about my day.”
‘Carried on a cloud by the prayers’
Wilson’s Sunday School class at Crawford Baptist Church in Mobile offered support during her grief, providing meals, visits and prayer. In the days and weeks following her husband’s death, she described feeling as if she was being “carried on a cloud by the prayers of so many.”
First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, serves widows like Wilson as part of their deacon ministry through monthly contacts or visits, and assistance with “around-the-house needs,” according to David Rhymes, pastor of family discipleship. The church also hosts a “grief share” class that meets weekly to support grieving members and help them move toward rebuilding their lives.
At First Baptist Church in Harrison, Arkansas, widows who are at least 60 years old or have special circumstances may participate in the church’s 1st Timothy 5 ministry. Eligible widows are assigned to deacons who offer support through prayer, visits and assistance with errands or household chores. Deacons invite the widows to a ministry luncheon and check on them before, during and after inclement weather.
“The deacon will give information about his family (even a picture) to the widow and request she pray for him as he prays for her,” noted senior pastor Rob Davis. “If the widow’s family is out of town, he will get contact information and share his name and contact info with them.”
The pandemic impacted many of the “in person” aspects of widow ministries, and to protect senior members from exposure to COVID-19, churches like FBC Harrison are conducting efforts by phone, Davis said.
‘Everyday life without that person’
Kelley, who said her husband had a heart for widows and orphans, wanted to do something to honor Mike after his death. She understood the pain of losing her soulmate and the challenges of learning to cope with everyday life without “that person.”
“I realized that nobody understands what being a widow is like until you are a widow,” she reflected. “And people have the best intentions in the world. They surround you, but you can be in a room of 100 people and still be very lonely because that one person’s not there.”
Kelley, a member of First Baptist Church Montgomery, Alabama, approached Jay Wolf, then-pastor of FBC Montgomery, with her desire to serve other widows within the church. After much prayer and with Wolf’s support, she began a WE CARE ministry, working with Kenny Hoomes, associate pastor for spiritual maturity/senior adults, to develop it and to enlist deacon support.
Now when Kelley is notified of a death, she sends the widow a note, letting them know she is praying. A couple of months later she visits, giving them time to settle in before coming alongside to offer information and support.
“Having been there, I realized that you don’t retain anything those first few months,” Kelley recalled. “And you don’t want to meet new people, you just want to settle in.”
During the visits, Kelley delivers a gift-bag with a prayer card and homemade soup. She also shares information about the availability of the deacons to meet physical needs and provide spiritual support.
“It’s our mission to be tangible evidence that God is love, because He has commanded us to walk with Him,” Kelley said.
Beauty by Fire Ministries
As part of WE CARE’s efforts, Kelley partners with Beauty by Fire Ministries — a nonprofit that works with central Alabama’s River Region churches, like FBC Montgomery, providing training for care of widows. It also provides monthly Bible studies, luncheons and “supper clubs” for fellowship and encouragement, along with biblical grief counseling for widows and their minor children.
“Beauty by Fire Ministries is committed to helping meet the ongoing emotional and material needs of widows in our community,” said Brooke Freeman, founder and president, “while pointing her to Jesus for the spiritual nourishment she needs.
“We have cultivated a culture of discipleship among the ladies through established ‘care communities’ in which they are able to serve the Lord and one another, to be a source of comfort, encouragement and hope in their most difficult of days.”
Churches can partner with Beauty by Fire by coordinating volunteers to help on “serve days,” facilitating “caring for widows” awareness events or training for church members, providing financial gifts to assist with ongoing costs, and praying for the ministry and the widows and children they serve.
Practical tips — Serving widows after the death of a spouse
- What to say in a card or on the phone: I’m praying for you; I’m so sorry; I’m here for you.
- What to say during a visit: What can I do for you? Do you need to talk? What errands can I run for you?
- What tangible gifts can I offer? Consider fresh fruit (many will bring heavy meals), sodas, water; disposable containers for leftovers; restaurant gift cards; paper products like trash bags, plates, cold and hot cups, tissues, napkins, paper towels.
- Loan tables and chairs for extra guests.
- Offer to help clean the house or babysit.
- Express concern and let the conversation remain about the deceased. Avoid sharing personal experiences.
- Just be present. Words may not be necessary.
Tips provided by Cynthia Walker Watts-Barrineau
Here’s another resource to help those who are grieving the loss of a spouse.