Every Monday morning you'll find the Rev. David Howlett and his wife, Elaine, in The Mourning Center at Christ United Methodist Church ready to assist those who are grieving and mourning to express themselves. It gives people a safe place to share their grief and loss, and learn how to walk alongside others who are struggling.
Birthed last year as an outreach ministry of the Independence church, the Howletts say People can share whatever is on their heart following a significant loss – whatever that loss may be – says David, a pastoral care pastor at the church, 14506 E. 39th St.
Sitting around a table in The Mourning Center with a candle flickering in the background, Elaine recalls the center evolved from a tragedy – the death of their 18-year-old son, Craig, who died in a one-car accident in 2000.
“I believe The Mourning Center ministry honors Christ,” says Elaine, a member of the grief care team. “We know from our experience how maybe the church can step up a little bit in grief care. We live in a culture that is ‘mourning avoidness,’ so we wanted to change that a bit and see how grief can be perceived.”
Prior to Craig's death, David thought he knew what to expect from a bereaved person. He had experienced a lot of grieving as a pastor, only to discover later there were many happenings in his ministry he and Elaine weren't prepared for – such as physical and emotional things.
“What we weren't prepared for with Craig's death was the spiritual hit our faith took,” he says. “Now I am a pastor and (Craig's death) was a full-blown crisis, and I questioned what was going on here? Why? How come? I still don't have the answers to that. But I tell you that's kind of the genesis of why we end up here.”
“We spent a lot of time thinking about this and processing this and just trying to understand,” he says. "So we think we have some experience that is helpful to others. But beyond that, we just kind of learned that if you stay connected with God, God will show up sooner or later.”
And He did!
“Along the way, God started opening doors for us. And one of them was being introduced in 2012 to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally and internationally known grief counselor and author, who also directs the Center for Loss and Life Transition at Fort Collins, Colorado. He understands that grief and mourning are things to be treated as much as something you work through and find someone to companion you,” David says. “That's his way at looking at things.”
“Grief,” David says, “is a normal, natural response to death; it is the flip coin of what love is. And if that person you love is no longer with you, then you are going to grieve.”
To deal with grief and mourning, the Howletts stress finding a safe place, such as The Mourning Center.
“The (center's) final goal isn't to resolve the issue or get over it,” David says. “The healing place is when you have reconciled that loss in your life to what is going on right now. Our real goal is to help church people be better at assisting someone who is hurting, grieving and mourning, to do it with dignity and to create a safe place.”
“We are just getting this (ministry) started even though we have been doing it for a year,” Elaine says. “Our numbers aren't spectacular, but our quality is.”
She adds, “We have helped a handful of people with very deep-seated issues, and right now we are planting some seed and we want them to grow and flourish … then explode.”
“We have learned things from Dr. Wolfelt,” David says, “and have matched them with my years of experience in ministry. People have gone through losses, and we have learned from that. And we just want to share what we have learned from others.”
For more information about The Mourning Center and its mission, visit ICUMC.org.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.