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Helping Your Choir Grieve the Death of a Choir Member

Being a part of a church choir is a wonderfully incorporating experience.   We meet together twice a week and share three to four hours together each week.  We have shared those many missed notes in rehearsal. We have laughed together. We have prayed together.  We recall those common moments where our musical performance was excellent.  The anthem was finished and as the reverberation dies off in the worship center, there was complete silence.  God’s spirit had empowered us to sing and for just a moment all the worshipers were in complete awe of God.  We celebrate our personal joys together.  We also share our tough times.  Even though we don’t practice and sing together, during the entire summer, we still are a part of the choir community.    We belong to one of the truly great communities of God’s people.  We love each other and are truly blessed.

 Eventually, we might face the challenge to grieve the death of one of our choir members whom we love.  We are stunned by her unexpected death.  We will need to gather together and prepare the music for her memorial service.  If we know and love our singers, our loss will be a great personal loss. As the director you realize that you have a pastoral ministry responsibility to help the choristers to grieve their loss as well.  With some, this comes easily.  With others, there is no quick or easy path for grieving so great a loss. If at all possible, you have been ministering to the surviving family through this crisis.  If the death was an accident, you should initiate with her family and pray with and for them at this great time of sorrow.  It would be particularly supportive to organize some of the practical matters to help the family.  You will need to have in place an efficient method of communication with each of your choristers.  You could suggest that the provide food for the family for a few days.

As you communicate this loss to your choir members, be certain to include those who have been a part of your choral ministry over the last several years, even if they might not presently in the choir.  When you gather the choir to rehearse for the memorial service, you cannot simply gather and start with a quick prayer, choral warm-up exercises and commence the learning the music for the service and then go home as if it were a typical rehearsal. This rehearsal will not be typical in any sense.  You have a pastoral responsibility to help the healing begin with all those in the choir. 

The Rehearsal

To follow are some suggestions that you might consider to help begin this process. 

You can prepare some symbols that will help the choir to feel and visualize their loss.  Arrange the rehearsal room normally.  This night her chair will be empty.  Take her robe and drape it across her chair and place her music folder or her hymnal on the choir chair. This can symbolize that she is a part of your ministry and has had a specific place in your midst.  Her absence is immediate, real and very sad.  You can also secure and light a candle prior to everyone’s arrival.   Let the candle burn throughout the rehearsal.  Place it away from her chair, in a prominent place but not at the center of the room.  The candle can symbolize the reality of her eternal live with Christ.  Her rich life was with God while she was in your midst.  Although she is no longer with us, she does live on with God.  This symbol can give us a visual expression of God’s love for her as well as each one of us who live our lives in fellowship with God. 

Once everyone arrives at the rehearsal, you might consider the following suggestions as to how to proceed.  You can start by explaining the symbols that you have prepared and what they stand for.  You can then give a brief explanation of how the death occurred, expressing your own personal feelings.  Some will already know this information, but all can benefit by hearing what happened.  Those who do not have many details will want to hear, but not ask for the details.  Then, give each person in the choir an opportunity to share something about their friendship with the one who has passed away.  Some will share a funny moment.  Others might share how she reached out to them in the past and how much love they experienced from her.  Don’t rush the moment and don’t be embarrassed by silence.  This time will be truly difficult for many.  However, it is very important that we first get in touch with our grief and then that we express it to others. 

You might offer a time of prayer together giving God thanks for the blessing of knowing her and for the joy she gave to others.  Pray for other family members who are left, a spouse, children or grandchildren.  Pray by name for those who were particularly close friends and that they might receive encouragement from the Lord in this time of grief.

You might then move to sing something together as a time of worship, perhaps a choral piece that you all know or a favorite hymn.  This will allow all of you to begin focusing on the Lord and be thankful that he loves all of us, including the one no longer in our midst.  This is not the time for choral perfection.  It is the time to allow God’s spirit to use music to minister to our hearts where mere words fall short.  Once this has been accomplished, you could then pass out the memorial service bulletin and go over the order of worship for the service. 

It is likely that because this is for one who was in the choir that there will be music of specific personal interest.  Explain the significance of hymns and service music selected. After that has been looked over, your choir could then begin the actual choral rehearsal for the service.  Be certain to leave the symbols in place throughout the entire rehearsal until the last person leaves the room.

The Memorial Service

As you gather to warm-up before the memorial service, encourage the choir that their ministry in music will be fundamental to the ministry to the family at the service.  Their strong singing will help the faint hearted in the service.  As you process by the family or kneel for communion, offer a prayer for those in the family.  As pastors and ministers of music in the church, we are called by God to love and comfort all the bereaved both the family as well as the choir members.  However, at all points, we should seek the guidance of the Lord as to how to help them enter into a deepening spiritual relationship with God through this time of grief.  This will truly be the work of God in our midst.  It is our privilege to be one of God’s instruments of love.  Thanks be to God!

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