Events that we all hope and pray will never happen, sometimes do.
Sometimes a young person dies and as the Church, as youth leaders and friends we are often in a position to bring comfort, support and help moving forward, for those left behind, in schools, youth groups and families.
This page will be a changing and updating resource page for if you find yourself in a situation like this and need to know where to turn for help.
When the unthinkable happens, I hope it helps to have somewhere to turn.
There are a number of charities and organisations with expertise in this area and we have tried to collate links to them below. We will be adding to this as and when we receive recommendations or find out about new resources.
A session for use with a church youth group or small group of Christian young people who are facing loss by a Children’s and Families minister in High Wycombe
These and others are included on the extensive Going for Growth Church of England Resources Website
Prayer Spaces for Schools has ideas for creative and interactive prayer activities for young people dealing with loss, in particular they have created a special page with activities and ideas in an emergency or tragedy situation.
We have also spoken to those who have had experience of this – clergy, leaders and others who have been in a situation where they were needed. Their wisdom and experience can hopefully be a source of guidance for you in a time of crisis. If you get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01604887058 or through Facebook messenger I can put you directly in touch with a practitioner from our Diocese with recent experience of dealing with the bereavement of a young person.
I have copied below a letter a received that details the experience of one leader, who wanted to share it to help others in the future.
A Case Study: a memorial service in school on the day of a young person’s funeral
This was how our ecumenical churches responded to a community secondary school suffering from a bereavement in year 11, particularly on the day of the funeral. Feedback received from school has been very positive very grateful that we took such care and time with all concerned.
We went in as Churches Together and were initially asked because a colleague and myself are already involved in school – I’m a parent governor and my Baptist colleague does a cake and coffee for staff weekly and is also a parent. After conversation with the school we extended the invitation to all the denomination leaders – in the end 5 of us went in on the day of the funeral.
The hearse came past the school at 10:30am and the young people (in tutor groups) lined either side of the road as it drove past. We accompanied the students and staff outside and checked everyone was okay. Some 30 of the young man’s peers attended the funeral and I was able to arrange with the priest that they had a reserved seating space (so as not to worry when they got there about where to sit or be split up – it was a packed service).
I spoke with the priest taking the funeral and we made connections from what was happening in the funeral service with what was happening in school. We used the Bible reading (Psalm 23), prayers from “Funeral, Thanksgiving and Memorial Services“, music (Snow Patrol: Run) and other readings. I had both a phone call and face to face meeting with the school to discuss their requirements.
I also gave the school a copy of Mark Oakley’s book of readings for funerals from which they chose ‘s/he is gone’ – without us knowing this was also the reading that the boy’s sister had chosen to read at the church.
Importantly we took everything in we needed for the service (candles, glass coasters, tea lights, matches, tapers and tissues [individual packets]) and the prayer stations. The school provided a chair, some sugar paper, the memory cards, pens and arranged for a link to the youtube clip / powerpoint. This I feel was very important as part of our ‘care’ for them.
To open our time together I used some opening words from Dorothy McRae-McMahon book page 78-79: simple funeral words.
We had a large candle lit before the young people came in and then each tutor group had two representatives who lit a smaller candle each; we then invited teaching staff who wished to come forward and light a tea light. The words used spoke about candles and light being important signs and symbols in all faiths and across traditions.
We had our readings (Bible and poem) then we showed a youtube video (8mins of it) which had been put together with music (Snow Patrol) and photos / videos. During this time the young people were invited to write a memory if they wished (or to do this afterwards).
Prayers were said (from the book mentioned above) and we finished with the Lord’s Prayer. I said the following words ‘So to conclude our time, bringing together that which has been spoken aloud and that which we have said in the stillness of our hearts, I’m going to say the Lord’s Prayer. If you would like to join me you are welcome – the words will be displayed on the screen. If you would prefer to remain quiet you are also welcome to do that.’
After the above structured time the students and staff were free to leave the hall, but the space remained open to them for the rest of the day. They came and watched the whole 30mins of the youtube video; filled in memory cards & also we had two reflective spaces: empty chair and honour wall. The young man had been nominated for an award so we had that printed up and on the wall. They popped in and out at various points in the day, engaging most with the honour wall & taking ribbons to wear on their uniform (including staff). The school kept both reflective stations so that they could use them in school more and share with the young man’s parents.
The students themselves were sharing via social media with those who were at the funeral what had happened in school taking pictures via Instagram (etc). Also those at the funeral were sharing pictures of the wake. The young people were allowed to use their phones as they wished. The students also supported one another in a remarkable way, there were a couple of people which we were concerned about (needing further support / bereavement counselling) and informed the school who took names so as to follow up / contact parents. Two members of ‘service six’ were also in school and stayed till lunch to be available for one to one time.
Making the connection between church and school was very key to this being as helpful as it was.