CONTACT: Katie Stinchon (617) 269-7171
No Joke: A Rabbi, a Priest and a Minister Talk About Death
30 Congregations Sharing One Conversation
November 6 through November 15
BOSTON, Mass. | Most often, it is the issues that separate the world’s major religions, rather than those which unite them, that makes news. The reverse will be true during one week in November when 30 congregations of different faiths–from Episcopalians to Buddhists–focus on what the faithful have in common: a reluctance to talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.
The Conversation Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that everyone’s wishes for end-of-life care are expressed and respected, is inspiring more than 30 Boston congregations to discuss preparing for dying. In a ground breaking effort, religious leaders have committed to working with congregants to overcome fears, superstitions, and misunderstandings in order to change the way our collective culture approaches death. Doing so will foster more peaceful deaths and less guilt for survivors and their families who are often left to make decisions for dying loved ones without direction.
“As one minister said to me – everyone in my congregation wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there,” says Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and founder of The Conversation Project. “We know there’s a need to guide clergy to have these conversations within their houses of worship, and the religious community has an important role to play in sharing this message.”
Clergy, like doctors, are often not trained on how to have the kind of intimate, tender conversations people facing grave illness want with their religious leaders. The Conversation Project is providing practical tools and tips for gaining more skill and an impetus for preaching the crucial message that sharing our wishes for end-of-life care is a gift to our loved ones.
The Conversation Project reaches out to people where they live, work, pray and gather to encourage values-centered conversations about a topic that touches every human life: how we want to be cared for in our final days. While 90 percent of the population says they believe they should talk about death, only 30 percent actually do. Often, it is religious stigma or even superstition that prevents individuals and families from addressing the inevitable in an effective and important way.
“Clergy see too often how avoiding these conversations can leave family members in the dark or cause arguments and strife at the bedside,” says Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, a Unitarian Universalist minister and advisor to the faith based community for The Conversation Project. “Religious leaders have the power of the pulpit to encourage congregants to have The Conversation sooner rather than later—in a safe, familiar setting, not waiting for a medical crisis in the ICU.”
Religious institutions participating in Conversation Sabbath are celebrating a collective readiness to ground one’s wishes of end-of-life care in their faith, and share them with loved ones and clinicians. More than 30 congregations across Greater Boston and beyond have joined, and as word of Conversation Sabbath spreads, congregations in cities nationwide are joining, including Springfield, Mass., Reno, Nev. and in Marquette, Mich.
At the heart of The Conversation Project’s work is the Conversation Starter Kit, a free, downloadable step-by-step guide that helps people have “the conversation” about their preferences for end-of-life care. The Starter Kit is designed to be used by families, or by individuals, as a way to help them think about and communicate important end-of-life decisions, before it’s too late. It’s available in in English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Korean, Russian, Vietnamese and Mandarin.
To date more than 250,000 people, from all 50 states have downloaded The Conversation Project’s starter kit and more than 357,000 people have visited The Conversation Project website since its 2012 launch. For more information visit theconversationproject.org.
Conversation Sabbath will be celebrated at the following houses of worship:
(Media presence welcome, arrangements must be made in advance)
Old South Church, 645 Boylston Street in Boston: Senior Minister Nancy Taylor will lead worship on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m., Sunday Oct. 25 at 9 and 11 a.m. as well as Thursday, Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 8 and 9 at 11 a.m. In addition, three forums called Dying Well: Christian Reflection on Life and Death will be held from 8 at 10 a.m. on the following Sundays Oct. 25, and Nov. 1.
Temple Israel, 477 Longwood Avenue, a Reform Jewish congregation in Boston: Senior Rabbi Ronne Friedman will speak on Friday evening, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.
Temple Beth Elohim, 10 Bethel Rd., in Wellesley, Mass.: Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, Advisor to The Conversation Project’s faith based communities will preach on “The Blessing of Being Mortal” on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. and lead a book discussion on Atul Gawande’s best-selling book “Being Mortal” at 8 p.m.
Bethel AME Church, 40 Walk Hill Street in Jamaica Plain: Dr. Gloria White Hammond will host service on Nov. 15 at 8 a.m.
Other congregations in the Greater Boston area celebrating Conversation Sabbath with topical preaching include: First Church in Cambridge (Congregational), Nov. 8 at 11 a.m., First Church in Boston (Unitarian Universalist), Nov. 8 at 11 a.m., Fourth Presbyterian, Nov. 8 at 10:30 a.m., Temple Shalom of Newton, Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m., First Parish in Bedford (UU), Nov. 15 at 10 a.m., Emmanuel Church in Boston, Rabbi Howard Berman of Central Reform Temple preaching, Nov. 15 at 10 a.m., Geshe Ngawang Tenley will teach at the Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies, at 68 Magoun Ave. in Medford, on end-of-life themes at 10 a.m. on Nov. 15.