When a couple decides to divorce, they also decide who gets to keep the friends, the house, the kids, and the timeshare. But who gets to keep the church? In a society that sees nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, that’s a question the church today must answer.
Most of us were raised to believe divorce is a sin. So how do we minister to those in the process of divorcing? Just as important, how do we minister to both partners, without taking sides? Our clearest answer comes in the example of Jesus as healer-ministering to those who are broken, rather than ostracizing or shaming them. Here are some concrete steps toward helping those in the process of a divorce.
Ask both partners how the church can be of help to them. Remind them often that you are available. Look for ways to include them in the life of the congregation.
Offer to sit down with the couple and simply ask if they still want to attend the same worship service. If they don’t have a problem being in it the same service, whether sitting apart or together, let that be their choice and support them in it.
If one of the partners will be leaving the congregation, call a sister church nearby and ask the minister to contact the individual. Don’t assume the leaving spouse will make the contact on his or her own-take the initiative yourself.
If rumors flourish, squelch them as quickly as possible. Ask the couple how they want questions answered about their situation.
If your church does not have someone other than the pastor who is qualified to offer counseling, refer the couple to an experienced therapist. It’s not a good idea for the minister to attempt marriage counseling. Individuals need to feel comfortable in church, and that can be hard if they have spent hours talking with the minister about the most intimate details of their marital relationship.
Offer classes on divorce recovery, including information on how to talk with children about divorce, budget time and money, and stay in relationship with God.
Assign someone of the same gender who has been through the divorce process to be a mentor to the healing person. Stock the church library with helpful books and videos.
If there is a physician in the congregation, ask if he or she will offer professional services at a reduced rate to the transitioning person. People going through a divorce often suffer physical responses to the stress at a time when they might be losing their insurance. Alternately, set up an emergency fund to help pay for medical and therapy costs.
When the divorce is legally over, think about offering a service of completion. We get married in the eyes of God. We get divorced in the eyes of God, too. Having a short, simple ceremony can give both partners a sense of closure.
Keep before you at all times the image of Jesus as healer. Remember, God does not abandon people who are broken and in pain. We cannot abandon them either.