South Carolina Baptist Newspaper Examines Death and Dying

Gravestones in the cemetery

In 37 years as a pastor, Rudy Gray sat at the bedside of many terminally ill church members. He stood at gravesides with many grieving families. He sought to speak comforting words — at least he hopes they were comforting.

But one thing he is sure of — he wasn’t fully ready to deal with bereavement in his early years of ministry.

“I think that’s one of the things most pastors aren’t thoroughly prepared for when they launch out into the ministry,” said Gray, now editor of South Carolina Baptists’ publication the Baptist Courier.

Questions swirled in his heart, practical questions in the midst of emotional moments. How do you best take care of a grieving family? What about cremation — should he support it or not? Should he always pray for the healing of terminally ill people, or are there times when — and reasons why — he shouldn’t?

“Some of these issues can be hot topics,” Gray said.

For that reason, years later as he led The Courier, Gray decided to use his pre-pastoral training as a journalist to bring a balanced look at all the parts of the conversation into one resource for pastors and church members.

That vision materialized as the July edition of the publication, with the cover, first section and concluding editorial dedicated to the subject of death and dying.

“We just wanted to provide as much information as we could so that people could read all the points of view in one place,” Gray said.

In the opening story, managing editor Butch Blume lays out a number of practical questions, from whether visitation should be held the same day as the funeral to the choice between burial and cremation.

“Ministers in South Carolina largely agree that the needs of the bereaved family should come first in the planning process,” Blume wrote, referencing a poll of pastors taken in the weeks leading up to the release of the July edition.

Frankie J. Melton Jr., pastor of Heath Springs Baptist Church and a former hospice chaplain, offers a gripping look at the importance of helping terminally ill patients accept the reality of death.

“As believers, our first inclination is always to pray for healing for those who are sick,” Melton wrote. “As a pastor and hospice chaplain, I want to give hope to those who are terminally ill. The question is, is praying for continued life on earth the only avenue of hope?”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Grace Thornton