This is Part II in a seven-part blog series analyzing a resolution coming to the PCUSA General Assembly on the end of life. The paper titled, “Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions,” forms the rationale of the resolution and is offered to the church as a pastoral guide to end of life conversation. Part one of the blog series can be found here.
By Marie Bowen, Presbyterians Pro-Life.
I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:38-39)
I love that this “handbook for caregivers,” opens with this scripture. God’s presence with us in our dying is a theme in the title, “Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions.” I hope to find that theme continued throughout the paper along with the importance of our faithful response to God at the end of life.
“How do I want the end of my life to be?” (emphasis mine) This is the first, and probably not the best, question in the rationale of the resolution being considered for approval at the PCUSA GA in June. A better question for the church follows: “How do we best claim and practice the presence of Christ and the hope of resurrection at the end of life?” Now that’s a conversation starter for the church! It is a question worthy of discussion by the highest governing body of our denomination. I hope that time will be given for substantial consideration of this important topic both at GA and in our local congregations.
The key focus of the paper is “advance care planning.” The introduction lays out the opportunities that pastoral counseling and congregational life offer for education and conversation in the “context of a community of faith shaped by the Reformed tradition.” It delineates four foundational convictions in one of the strongest paragraphs of the document:
Some of our central convictions include: (1) that all life is a gift of God, (2) that life is best lived as a covenantal relationship between God, ourselves, and others, (3) that life is lived most fully in response to a sense of divine calling, and (4) that God’s presence and power are not limited by the boundaries between life and death. These significantly affect how we talk about the end of life in at least two ways. First, these convictions provide a context of faith and hope in which we can begin to understand our own mortality neither as a defeat nor as a meaningless event, but instead as surrounded and inhabited by the loving presence of God. In this way, we can avoid despair and be empowered toward honesty and clarity. Second, these convictions can guide us through the increasingly complex choices our medical technologies now allow us to make. Seen in relation to God, our deaths are neither an end to be embraced nor a crushing enemy to be resisted at all costs. Instead, they are a part of the ordering of God’s good world to which we are called and enabled to respond with imagination, love, and openness to God’s grace.
The introduction moves the reader along to consider relational contexts for end of life conversation. Our decisions about advance care planning are personal, but they are not made in a vacuum. As we seek to make decisions that reflect our deep and abiding faith there are many others who are impacted and who also have need to be heard: family, medical and spiritual caregivers, and friends. In depth conversations about advanced care planning are needed and have great benefit for patient, family, and healthcare professionals. Such conversations should take place early and often.