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July 31, 2012

Our Neighbors: In joy and sorrow, a pastor is there

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — As pastor of First Baptist Church in London, Bro. Terry Lester is many things to his congregation. He is a teacher, counselor, mentor and friend.  He is also an author.

In his recent book, “Weeping With Those Who Weep,” Lester describes one of his most important duties – ministering in the crisis of death.

“There’s so much more to ministry than just preaching,” he said.

The book’s title is based upon Romans 12:15 that states “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  

“As people of faith, we celebrate death as not the end. It’s a part of life,” he said.  “But coming to terms with that is really important to living.”

Lester feels the book will be particularly helpful to young ministers but, even with 33 years of experience as a pastor, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers.

“I don’t understand all the mysteries of life and death,” he said, “but that’s part of being people of faith.  We don’t have to understand it all.”

His book “is not a technical approach to grief,” he said, but rather his experiences as a pastor in grief counseling and preaching funeral services.  He hopes his experiences can help someone else.

“As a minister, my desire is to always be learning, to be growing, to be better,” he said.

In the book, Lester describes how some funerals are more difficult to preach than others.

In cases where a life is taken suddenly or too soon, finding the right words to say isn’t easy.  Lester said the funeral service is a chance to share the love God has for everyone.

“It’s a privilege to speak at a friend’s funeral or someone we know,” Lester said.  But sometimes he must preach the funeral of a stranger, a non-religious person, or death by suicide.  Regardless of the circumstances, he said every funeral he has preached is for someone “who God has valued.”

“Every life is of value. It is the task of a pastor to speak of that life that is holy to God.”

The book can also be a great resource for church family trying to find the right words for those tragic situations including the death of an infant.

“There’s nothing fair about that (death of an infant),” he said. But when counseling an individual or family dealing with grief, “we don’t need to explain everything,” he said.  “It’s not our call; it’s God’s call.  We are celebrating a life precious to Him.”

Lester explained we don’t always have to come up with words of comfort, but can comfort by mere presence alone.

For so many grieving a loss of a loved one, simply being a listening ear is often enough, Lester said.

“One of the most helpful gifts we can give a grieving person is the gift of listening,” he writes.

Lester’s first experience of significant, personal loss occurred while he was in the seminary. In a lot of ways, he writes, the death of his grandmother was the “first step” toward learning how to minister to grief.

While he didn’t preach that service, he remembers fondly the Bible passage that was read, Psalm 121, and regularly uses it in his funeral sermons today.

“Those beginning words that assure ‘My help comes from the Lord’ are a reminder that the Lord was my help and will help others through the crisis of death,” he said.

Whether it is the death of their own family member, friend or stranger, pastors, too, are affected by grief.

 “We (pastors) are very human.  When I lose one of our church members here, I grieve, too,” he said.  “I have to acknowledge that to be helpful to them (family).”

And pastors are called, he said, as outlined in Isaiah 61:12, to “comfort all who mourn.”

This is Lester’s third book to be published. He is currently working on a draft of his fourth book, a memoir of growing up in a small town in the 60s.  

Lester and his wife, Jan, have three adult sons – Clay, Clark and Cary.

Lester’s book, “Weeping With Those Who Weep,” is available for purchase at the London First Baptist Church’s office, Brookhaven Christian Books, and online at www.weepingwith.com.

editor@sentinel-echo.com

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