So often, the ministry staff goes through routine weekly tasks taking care of responsibilities for the coming Sunday: recruiting volunteers for various roles, paying bills, preparing booklets of various kinds, preparing classes, writing articles, preparing sermons. The past 10 days have been anything but routine. Yes, the weekly tasks had to be done: we needed a sermon, teachers for classes, an order of worship, bulletins, projection materials prepared, volunteers for various roles, and praise team books. But there was something else to do. Something else that deeply affected our church family.

From the initial call that baby Maelyn was in the hospital until her final breath, there was an atmosphere of love, hope, and support. Prayers for a miracle. Cries of pain. Ministers present. Older moms for Erin. Hugs. Prayers. As the evening progressed, word was sent to the congregation requesting prayers. Texts exploded. Waiting rooms filled. People spilled into the hall. Elders and wives. Words of comfort. Hugs. Young moms. Prayers and more prayers. Cries. Hugs. Numbness. Aches. Tears. Group prayers. Silent prayers. Tears. Hugs of support. Infant blessing. Songs sung around Maelyn.

Silas and Erin were not alone as they released their baby from this world; they were surrounded by many from their church family. Erin and Silas were not alone when they left the hospital; they went home with Chris and Sandy while other church members led by Tami worked to put away Maelyn’s toys, clothes, and equipment. Silas and Erin were not alone on Sunday at church; people walked with them, surrounded them during a pastoral prayer of lament and hope, hugged them, and supported them. Erin and Silas were not alone at Pierce Brothers as they walked through every parent’s nightmare of managing details for a child’s burial. Thank you, church, for walking with the heartbroken.

As the week went on, the extended church family wanted to know how they could help. Paula came daily to the office and delegated leaders to manage the groups of volunteers so that church members could help without everything being routed through the office. Thank you, Paula, for serving in my life last week the way Jethro served Moses when he was overwhelmed with community organizational tasks. Thank you, Claudia, Carrie, Kemba, and Susan, for taking on the role of leading in various areas for the memorial. Thank you, volunteers (too many to name individually), for preparing food, decorating the foyer and stage areas, creating purple “remember Maelyn” ribbons, and speaking words of love and hope while sharing joyful stories about sweet Maelyn at the memorial service. Thank you, members of the Camarillo church, for providing childcare so that Conejo teens and adults could be present for the memorial service.

Sometimes, it is in life’s most difficult and devastating moments that we see God’s beauty and work most clearly. As I write this on Monday afternoon following the memorial service for Conejo’s precious Maelyn, I am humbled by the amazing view we’ve had of God’s work and tender care through this church from the vantage point of the church office. The beauty of love, tender care, grief, hope, and help were born from a place of gut-wrenching agony, deep questions, and unbelievable pain. Thank you, God, for meeting us in times of grief. Thank you for gifting each of us differently so that we can, as your body, help the hurting; support one another; and share our questions, anger, fears, and frustrations with you. Please help us continually seek you and encourage one another as we walk this journey together with the Opdahl family.

Rene Heard
Author: Rene Heard