dying to live

The Content

A quote from one of the reviewers Professor Emmauel Larty, Chandler School of Theology USA, ‘Truly well-grounded, Dying to Live is an example of practical theology as it best. Beginning with real life experiences, each chapter takes us through a ‘pastoral circle’ that brings historical theology into creative dialogue with human sciences issuing in suggested practices of care that are informed by each of these.  A highly readable companion text for everyone who care for human persons facing the realities of life and death.’


1          Laying the Foundations

2          Care of the Dying and of their Carers

3          Ministry to the bereaved

4          Another Ending – The Funeral

5          Liturgy, Theology and Funerals for the non-churched?

6          Looking to the Future – Post funeral support

7          Resources for Pastoral Carers

8          Joining up the Dots

Resources for the Bereaved

Select Bibliography

Online Resources

Subject Index

Index of Biblical References


This book is to encourage reflective practice arising from theology associated with dying, bereavement and the afterlife. It encourages readers to interact with the contents, ‘to enter into a conversation’ with me, the writer. It will encourage you to critically reflect on your experience in the light of Christian faith and theology to discern how God is calling us to minister, becoming more informed and confident in the practice of ministry: an inner journey and an outer journey. It is concerned with theology and practice; but don’t be put off!

‘Theology’ means ‘words about God’. It has been used to describe what we understand about the mystery which is God – and it is something that we are continually discovering. As Christians we do theology with God in ‘listening to’ words from God, through Scripture, worship, meditation, silence and ‘speaking’ words to God, through prayer, bringing us into a closer walk with God and into a relationship with our brothers and sisters. How we experience God differs. God is known through the natural world, the arts creating or participating in painting, drama, sculpture, literature or music; catching a glimpse of God through the Church, music, liturgy, Scripture; through saintly people. Knowledge of God leads us to explore the nature and activity of God at work in our world – theology. I like to do theology together, with friends around my kitchen table. Theology is for everyone, not just for professionals.

What of the word ‘practice’? As we discern through our prayers where God is at work we are led to action, that ‘God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven’. I am putting the words ‘theology’ and ‘practice’ together since I believe this is what Jesus did.

Who is this book for?  This book is intended for a disparate group of Christians: ordinary church members with many life skills in human caring to help their questioning neighbour; those invited to be part of a pastoral team visiting the elderly/ housebound, the dying and the bereaved; those seeking; those who have received a recognized, authorized ministry as Readers and lay preachers and lead worship; those training for ordained ministry and clergy wanting to improve their reflective skills in care of the dying, funerals and bereavement.


What is the book about?  Each chapter follows a pattern: a summary of the chapter followed by a diagram of the method to be used, the Pastoral Circle. Beginning with Experience roots the material in the reality of life; experiences in the chapters come from hospice and parish ministry – names have been changed to preserve confidentiality. Reflection on Experience allows me to tease out theological implications of the experience. Life is embedded in a particular historical time and location so we move to reflect on the Cultural Context, much of which could be called ‘secular’, but Christianity is rooted in the everyday. Jesus cultural context was his rooting in the Hebrew Scriptures, an observant Jew in rural first-century occupied Palestine, our context is very different. We live in the developed world influenced by the advances of medical science which has extended life expectancy and distanced ideas of mortality. Context is informed by the physical and social sciences and theology. Scripture and the Christian Tradition give insights pertinent to the particular chapter, including some of the different ways that Scripture has been interpreted across the centuries, the Tradition, and Christian denominations. There are brief indications from the insights of other faiths. Cultural Context in Dialogue with Scripture and the Tradition The insights of Cultural Context inform and challenge our faith formed by Scripture, and Scripture’s insights challenge the knowledge emerging from our Context, this dialogue leads into Theology. Personal belief is a provisional attempt to understand God and God’s call to action within our own experience, otherwise it is second-hand and defective. It takes into account the contemporary world and draws on the thinking of the Christian tradition, present and past in which each of us is formed. This is why theology is so exciting: it is always in process. It is this Theological Reflection that guides and informs our Pastoral Practice. We have learnt much in the last century from other disciplines, as Christians we do not have the monopoly on knowledge, but, believing that all truth is God’s, we need the humility to learn while recognizing that in some respects other disciplines are governed by understanding we would not own. Our pastoral care will always be provisional and contextual. At times I refer back to the original experience: this is called the ‘spiral curriculum’, since when we return we will have a deeper understanding of where God is at work in a situation.


Overview of the chapters

Chapter 1 Laying the Foundations is an introduction to the book. An experience illustrates the range of attitudes to mortality that are reflected on theologically. The context depicts reasons for changes in attitudes; the growth in the sciences, the medical model, which has dramatically changed expectations of life marginalizing thoughts about death. For many, scientific thinking is a primary challenge to faith and religion, nevertheless the Scriptures are informative and lead to a theology of Humanity, Creation and Salvation, which challenge and inform our practice of ministry.

Chapter 2 Care of the Dying and of their Carers considers the history of care when faith was significant; followed by periods of doubt. Today there is a growing recognition of achieving ‘a good death’ with an emphasis on spirituality in Government reports. Scriptural insights challenge. The critical dialogue, of Cultural Context and Scriptural insights, leads to a Theology of Incarnation and Presence informing our practice of ministry with the dying, and their relatives.

Chapter 3 Ministry to the Bereaved explores the experience of loss, and how we respond: death is noted as the ultimate loss for ourselves and those we love. The Context of the twenty-first century uses models to understand the process of bereavement derived from psychology. The Scriptures offer insights into loss, not as something to be avoided but as a source of potential inner growth. Cultural Context and Scriptures lead to theologies of Vulnerable Incarnation and Hope which guides our pastoral responses.

Chapter 4 Another Ending – The Funeral explores the purpose and changing patterns of funerals and rituals in the twenty-first century. Denominational liturgies are briefly examined. Scripture looks at burial customs in the Scriptures. A Theology of Vulnerable Incarnation and of Hope emerges, which informs our practice of ministry and is pastoral to those of faith.

Chapter 5 Liturgy, Theology and Funerals for the Non-churched? explores funerals of those of little or no faith whose relatives nevertheless ask for the help of the Church. Scripture has insights concerning the ‘outsider’ in contrast to Jesus’ inclusive ministry. Context and Scripture are brought together in dialogue leading to a theology of Grief, Vulnerable Incarnation and God, a pastoral sensitivity in working with the bereaved in preparing a funeral and a theology and practice of ministry that is sensitive.

Chapter 6 Looking to the Future – Post-funeral Support considers how ongoing care of the bereaved can be offered throughout the Christian year in a society that sometimes appears to marginalize and forget the existence of death. Scripture examines the understanding of the Covenant relationship of God and people. Relationship is a reminder of the Trinitarian Godhead. Context and Scripture lead to a Trinitarian theology informing pastoral practice.

Chapter 7 Resources for Pastoral Carers recognizes the challenges to those who are involved in ministry of the dying and the bereaved. This can be an exhausting ministry in which to work, since it goes against the grain in our current culture. It begins with an example when the patient becomes the carer. The Scriptures are a rich resource of guidance to ‘come apart’. The chapter suggests resources for our own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Chapter 8 Joining the Dots brings together the book using the model of Oden in the context of the twenty-first century, its significance vis-à-vis the advances of science and technology and the huge benefits which the latter bring; a theology emerges raising issues of Autonomy and Forgiveness leading to pastoral practice.

Footnotes indicate the sources of quotations, or act as a starting point for pursuing an idea. There are reflective questions to relate my experience to that of the reader. A brief list of books follows.



Much Christian education in the past has been didactic, doctrinal in subject content or non-existent. Power was held by male clergy. Many educated Christians today question this style of learning so different from ‘secular’ styles. The content of the faith has also been an issue, with clergy lacking in trust that lay people could interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Some Christian groups believe that it is wrong to question the truths of the Bible and discourage questions, but Jesus offered stories and left his listeners to make sense of them for their own lives (Mark 4.9–13, 33–4; Matt. 13.51–3); he turned the question back to the questioner (Luke 10.25); he accompanied those who were searching for meaning, clarifying their thinking (Luke 24.13–35). The teaching of Jesus set his listeners free to respond. It is indoctrination, a fixed view point, which enslaves. We have Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16.13), when we are humble enough to listen and discern God’s will.

Paulo Freire (1921–97) challenged traditional education methods in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. His emphasis was on dialogue signifying respect in the pupil–teacher relationship, in contrast to what he describes as the ‘banking’ type of education, where the educator ‘deposits’ knowledge into the mind of the listener. Freire believed that the educator had to forget himself, to die in order to be born again and to educate alongside, to teach and learn from, the person being taught. He used the metaphor of Easter to explore how the power divide between teachers and learners could be transcended. Education was about praxis, it deepened understanding and made a difference to building community, leading to actions for justice and human flourishing. His is a pedagogy of hope. He wrote of conscientization, of developing a consciousness in people that has the power to transform their thinking and attitudes. His thinking is particularly applicable to the Church. Freire’s learning used personal experience, narrative, the senses (objects to look at, feel and explore); the imagination (stories); different ways of learning (visual, aural, kinaesthetic) and exploring together. If we use these methods, we discover that sense is made by the reader in relating new learning to his/her existing learning and experience.


The method to be used in this book is one of lifelong learning. In current adult education individuals are encouraged to have a ‘buddy’ or a ‘mentor’. The invitation is for the reader to find someone with whom to share. The reader/ a ministry team group will be invited to engage with this book through activities, questions and reflection which are indicated in the text by a bullet point and record the experience.to form a diary of reflection. My hope and prayer is that you will engage and you and your ministry will be enriched.


Help please: Please could you the reader contribute to this book? Please feel free to add critical comments and enter into a conversation on this vital issue in this area in our society. www.dyingtolive.org.uk