Rebecca Cheung, and other members of Ivy Church in Manchester, ran a baby loss service during Baby Loss Awareness Week. She shares with us the vision behind it and the impact it had on families in their community, in the hopes that it might inspire others to do something similar for those in their groups and communities who have been through this difficult loss.
In 2016, good friends of ours said goodbye to their beautiful baby girl at just seven weeks old. She had fought valiantly to overcome a serious heart condition but it proved too much. In the years that followed we both experienced miscarriages and, as we shared our pain with each other and with those around us, we discovered a hidden river of grief. Scores of friends and acquaintances had walked similar paths, too often in silence, afraid of communicating the weight of their pain, of how it might be received, of having their heartache stirred again as a result of a well-meaning but insensitive comment. Those losses took many forms: lost infants, lost pregnancies, lost years struggling to conceive. Each experience full of sorrow and heartache, anger and exhaustion.
A safe space to bring our pain
Bringing our pain to God is often a very individual experience. Seldom do we do so corporately in a congregational environment. Coming face to face with the pain in our own communities can be raw and uncomfortable. Yet as my friend and I pondered our own experiences we both came to the separate conclusion that God was leading us to explore what it could look like to bring together those who had experienced the loss of a baby or who grieved for the blessing of a family they had yet to receive.
One fortuitous conversation later we decided that we would love to host a service for our local community. It would be an evening that would coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Week and would aim to reach both Christians and those who had never walked through the doors of a church before.
Through the creativity, wisdom and experience of a handpicked team we dreamt together of a safe space that would be open to everyone and would encompass baby loss in all its forms. We wanted the event to recognise and validate people’s pain, anger and tears shed, but also speak into the future and hold up hope. We knew it needed to recognise the courage it takes to publicly own such an experience and also provide flexibility, so decided we would set it up in a way that people could briefly drop in or linger for a while.
Details of the ‘Wave of Light’ event
We called the event ‘Wave of Light’ and, with all the above in mind, created seven spaces for reflection, broadly themed around the different stages of grief. For example, one captured the way in which grief changes us by reflecting on the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken ceramics are repaired with precious metals and viewed as more precious as a result. Another was built around Psalm 56:8, in which we are reassured that God sees all our sorrows and collects our tears.
We explored what it was like to feel stuck in our grief, and we included a large whiteboard for those who felt able to write their hopes and dreams for the future down. We also invited a local Christian bookseller who brought with her a selection of incredible resources focused on grief, loss, hope and healing.
We also held a short formal service as we felt some would appreciate this. It included a short time of sung worship, a prayer for those we had lost and an opportunity to name our children aloud and to light a candle in remembrance. Here is the prayer sequence we used for the lighting of the candles:
Host As we come together today we acknowledge our children. Children we have longed for and children no longer with us. We join together with thousands around the country in recognising our loss, pain and grief through the lighting of candles.
Will you join me as we pray?
All Father God we come before you this evening just as we are. We know you see our hearts and hear our pain and longing. As our hearts break, so does yours. God you promised that you would send the Holy Spirit to us to hold us through the dark times and we ask for that spirit of comfort now.
Main candle lit by service host.
All As we light these candles we commit name of your child/our longed for children into your hands and thank you that they are surrounded by your light and love. Help us in our grief to know your peace and the depth of your love for us.
Before and after the formal service we encouraged people to explore the reflection spaces and receive prayer when and if they felt ready to. Supporting the event was a specially selected prayer team who had received a very clear briefing about the nature of the interactions we were hoping to offer: supportive, gentle and compassionate. We knew it was not a time for advice or long, elaborate prayers. We needed a team with listening hearts, people who could speak the heart of God simply and kindly into people’s brokenness. And we made sure there was a bolt hole to escape to that provided tea, coffee and incredible cake.
Responses from those who attended
One young woman shared that it had been the first time she had voluntarily returned to church since the loss of her baby, and she was so encouraged that we had created a space that recognised the weight of her grief.
Another couple who attended had never entered a church in their lives but had wanted to come to mark a loss experienced years before. They told us that they had found comfort and acknowledgement within the walls of our church.
It was a beautiful evening, not in spite of the pain and the tears, but precisely because of them. We truly felt we were grieving alongside those in our community, and taking God’s peace into people’s pain.