• Approaching The Tomb: How Scriptural Reflection And Hospice Education Influence The Church's Conversations About Death And Dying

      Duckworth, Darian
      DARIAN ELISE DUCKWORTH APPROACHING THE TOMB: HOW SCRIPTURAL REFLECTION AND HOSPICE EDUCATION INFLUENCE THE CHURCH’S CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DEATH AND DYING Under the Direction of CHANEQUA WALKER-BARNES, Ph.D. First United Methodist Church of West Point, Mississippi, is a multigenerational congregation experiencing growth in membership. Much of the church’s energy goes into activities for those able to come to the church building. The problem that has developed is that the homebound members and those who are nearing death are at risk of feeling isolated from the community of faith. The project developed as a way to identify what might cause church members to shy away from one another’s deathbeds. The goal of the project was to provide space in the local church for conversations on dying, death, and resurrection. The project measured the effects of Bible study and hospice education on the church’s ability to talk about death and dying. The intention was to help members of the local church articulate and reflect on which components of the end of life of their loved ones evoked discomfort and unease. The seven-week project consisted of a group interview in the first session, three sessions of Bible study on John 11:17-44, two sessions of hospice education, and a group interview in the final session. The project’s methodology involved qualitative research with data collection from group interviews and discussion. Data came from the two group interviews. The type of analysis used was phenomenological inquiry. The results of the project suggested that lack of medical information about the end of life and a lack of theological reflection about death in the local church contribute to people’s fears of talking about death and dying. There was concern expressed in the group about the suffering of the human body as death nears. Developing trust and relationships, especially through storytelling, helped enable conversations in the context of a small group. The study began with asking questions of a group but has become the beginning of a conversation that the local church can continue. Further study would include expanding the hospice education to others in the congregation, perhaps in conjunction with a sermon series on life after death. I would also hope that the project could become a small group study for use in other congregations.