Christian resources for living well in the light of mortality.
We aren’t good at talking about death – and yet we desperately need to do just that. Death and Life was devised by Joanna Collicutt and Victoria Slater to help churches fill their role in encouraging proper conversations about death in society.
We have two aims – to equip churches to explore issues around death and to change the culture.
Our work is based on some fundamental principles - people should be met where they are, and the practice should be positive and open to everyone.
We also need to receive the wisdom of ‘the last days’. This means gathering stories, documenting insights, and encouraging creative expression – receiving wisdom, not just giving pastoral care.
Before you start, familiarise yourself with good practice, learned through reflection and experience.
Ensure you have one or two people who are there to share the work.
Even if you’re simply preaching a one-off sermon on death and dying it’s important to have some support in place to help you reflect on what you are trying to achieve and the impact (intended or unintended) of what you say.
If you’re running a group event that involves face-to-face conversations about death and dying this will be even more important because:
- A person in your group may become ill or distressed;
- It helps to manage with group dynamics and to share the practical tasks;
- The facilitators can support each other and offer constructive feedback and peer supervision. One function of supervision is to be ‘critical friends’, holding each other accountable;
- You can pray for each other.
It’s also important to know your limits and to identify someone whose advice you can seek if you think you may be getting out of your depth; for example a health care professional or hospital or hospice chaplain, who is willing to be available at the end of a phone.
More detailed information can be found in the course handbook.
Respect and confidentiality are fundamental principles.
There should be clear rules about confidentiality. This will depend on the context of your work. For example a discussion after a sermon is essentially a public event but a specific course or workshop that individuals have signed up for is more private. In these latter cases it is important to set some agreed confidentiality boundaries at the beginning of sessions. To feel safe, people need to know that what they have shared will remain within the group and that their requests to remain anonymous will be respected.
But if someone discloses a safeguarding-related issue you should seek advice from your church safeguarding officer, or if that is not possible, from your local adult safeguarding board.
There should be clarity about what will happen to any personal stories that are told or pieces of work that are produced in a creative setting. Any creative work that people produce should be treated with the same respect and degree of confidentiality as anything that is spoken or written. This merits some discussion at the beginning of the event. People may simply want to take their work home with them. However, if you want to be able to share either original creative work or photographs with others, you will need to ask permission from individuals to do that, including a clear agreement as to whether or not they want it to be attributed.
If you are keeping records (hard copy or electronic) they should comply with the General Data Protection Regulations. Any notes that are taken should be anonymised e.g. ‘Mrs X’ instead of name.
Be prepared for your work to bring up difficult feelings in yourself.
Working in the area of death and dying can be particularly challenging if you have been recently bereaved or are going through a difficult time. Even ‘old’ losses can unexpectedly come back to the surface when we start to explore this area. So, make sure that the time is right for you. And whatever your situation, try to ensure the following things are in place:
- Awareness that working with this material might raise issues for you personally and that you might need to take some time to process what arises in a way that is helpful to you. Keeping a journal may be helpful here.
- Enough time to prepare for the event and to process the thoughts and feelings that are likely to be shared with you. It is not a good idea to try to squeeze conversations about death in between other appointments.
- Resources to sustain you. You may find it helpful to schedule a relaxing activity such as a walk, meditation or something creative for yourself before or after these conversations.
- Supervision and support. Someone you know and trust to talk things through with and share your feelings.
For more detailed information see the course handbook.
Provide support that goes beyond the duration of the event.
A course or workshop on death and dying may put people in touch with deep things in their lives. This means it may be some time after the event that a person feels the need to talk with someone, and it’s important that there’s a named person they can contact who will listen to them and provide appropriate pastoral support. You need to ensure that:
- It is made clear that there’s a named person who people can contact for pastoral support;
- People know how to contact that person;
- People know that they can contact that person at any time after the event.
Who the appropriate pastoral contact is will vary according to the context. It may be one of the facilitators or, if the course or workshop is being run with a preformed group, it may be the group convenor who is the named person.
Other organisations and resources that can support your work
- Age UK
- Art of Dying Well
- Church of England funerals
- Compassion in Dying
- Funeral Zone (online funeral resources)
- The National Council for Palliative Care
- Boulding, R. (2017). Facing death. Oxford: BRF
- Brayne, S. (2010). The D word: Talking about dying. London: Continuum
- Carter, M. (2014). Dying to live: A theological and practical workbook on death, dying and bereavement. London: SCM
- Kalinithi, P. (2017). When breath becomes air: What makes life worth living in the face of death. London: Pengin
- Winter, D. (2013). At the end of the day: Enjoying life in the departure lounge.Oxford: BRF
- Wright, N.T. (2011). Surprised by hope. London: SPCK
Worth a listen
In this section...
The need and role of Death and Life, with biographies of the creators.
Exploring people's understanding of death and dying using creative arts.
Six sessions on different aspects of preparing for death and dying.
Resources for sermons, Bible studies, meditations and a prayer walk.
Buy our handbook on leading a death preparation course.
Get in touch
If you need any help using these resources or would like to contact us about any other matter, send us an email.
"You have most lovingly and effectively removed my underlying fear of dying."
An initiative by the Diocese of Oxford, in collaboration with Ripon College Cuddesdon with financial support from the Henry Smith Charity.