Eleven years ago, Jeff Schipper, pastor of Norfolk Church of Christ, felt the need to start a support group for those experiencing grief.
But he wasn’t sure if anyone would actually show up.
But 20 people did, helping to realize the need for and importance of GriefShare. He’s been leading a continuous string of weekly meetings at his church ever since.
Conversation at GriefShare meetings is prompted through a series of 13 videos focusing on various grief-related topics. The videos are narrated by David and Nancy Guthrie, who had to deal with the death of two of their three children.
Schipper downplays his role in the group.
“I unlock the door and turn on the TV,” he said. “Those who come do the hard part.”
Graduates of the program disagree.
Sherry Shald of Norfolk appreciates Schipper’s role because he “walks the walk.”
"He totally walks in love,” she said.
Shald began attending GriefShare meetings in 2008 after the death of her husband.
“People out there don’t know,” she said, “but people in here can finish your sentences.”
Schipper had not heard of GriefShare until a church member moved to Omaha after the death of her husband. That church member found solace and peace through an Omaha GriefShare group, bought the GriefShare kit and sent it to Schipper. She also listed Schipper’s church on the GriefShare website.
Schipper then received a phone call from a Norfolkan who was interested in attending.
“That put a fire under me,” Schipper said. “I thought I better get this going.”
He placed ads in the Daily News, set up tables, placed a box of Kleenexes at every seat and brought in five or six church members who were trained in grief counseling.
He was surprised at how the first evening went.
“These were all depressed people, but we laughed more than we cried. That they’re dealing with the worst time in their life and there could be laughter” was eye-opening, Schipper said.
Those attending said they no longer felt alone, realizing that others were going through similar feelings after the loss of a loved one.
“They felt normal, and not crazy,” Schipper said.
This began Schipper’s 11-year ministry of leading Thursday evening meetings. On only a handful of nights has someone had to fill in for him.
Through the years, more than 250 people have driven as far as an hour to attend.
One came as soon as one week after losing a spouse. Another waited 18 years, realizing she had never dealt with her loss.
“You see people wrestling with God and grief, and finally surrender. It’s the greatest satisfaction to see God softening their hearts,” Schipper said. “I can see it happen.”
One man was so grief-struck he couldn’t even speak his wife’s name at the first three meetings.
Eventually he recovered from the loss, and today he helps veterans who are dealing with terminal illness.
“That’s huge,” Schipper said.
Schipper has found GriefShare to be a blessing in his own life as well.
“I wouldn’t be the minister I am today without the GriefShare group,” he said. “They’ve been encouraging. They got me through challenging times.”
But now it’s time for another chapter in the life of GriefShare in Norfolk as Schipper has stepped down as the leader of the grief ministry effort at the Church of Christ.
“I felt in my heart God saying there’s a new season in my life,” he said.
That new season is taking place at the Well in Norfolk, an addiction treatment center, where he has begun leading a GriefShare group.
GriefShare sessions also are offered at another location, First Christian Church in Norfolk. Meetings are Mondays at 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 1 p.m.