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In Need of Therapy

by Tim O'Hearn

I recently had the opportunity to visit an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while. She had been in an accident and, naturally, the conversation centered on her loss of an arm. In addition to the original trauma, she had an infection that required additional surgeries. And, of course, there was the matter of rehabilitation. Since she lost her dominant arm, she had to learn to write again. This was something I understood, since when I played Captain Hook in Peter Pan I had insisted the hook be on my dominant hand; therefore, I had to learn to write with my other hand. Beyond writing, though, she had to relearn a lot of other things. Try, for instance, using a manual can opener with one hand, or cutting left-handed when all you have are right-handed scissors. The loss of an arm, or any external body part, requires extensive therapy, both physical and mental.

Sometimes we forget this when a church loses a body part. When a preacher moves on or is fired. When an elder or deacon dies. Those are times that we notice the loss of a body part. But what about when any member of the congregation dies? Or when someone leaves the fold for any reason? John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, /entire of itself.” Paul said it less poetically, but just as strongly.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

I have been in congregations that were significantly made up of military members. When the congregation was small, a transfer could mean the loss of several active members. It could mean that children lost friends. The congregation suffers from one set of orders.

When a congregation loses a body part, the body needs therapy. Sometimes the need is obvious. If a preacher leaves, everybody feels the loss. Some may be pleased, others sad, but everyone feels it. The same should be true when an elder or deacon resigns or dies. Too often churches try to move on as if nothing has changed. But it has. The body needs to adapt to the changes, and that may require some physical therapy (someone taking their duties). It also requires emotional support. When a “significant pastor” goes, 20% of the church goes, too. It is less among Churches of Christ, but it still happens. This is because those people don’t immediately get the support they need to deal with the loss.

What is true on a grander scale when the loss is one of the more visible members of the congregation is also true when the loss is one that strongly affects only a few. If there is a death, we usually rally around the family, offering support in various ways. If a family moves away, do we think to help the friends of the children, who have just suffered a traumatic loss? What about the friends of the adults? Do we just figure they can cope, and not take any action?

If someone silently slips out the back door, the congregation has suffered a loss. That person was significant to someone in the congregation. Even then, some therapy is needed.

Are we allowing the body to suffer because we don’t get the therapy we need? Whatever the reason for the loss, we have lost a part of the body. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; /It tolls for thee.”