Learning to Comfort

Bliss Peterson

Licensed Lay Minister, Episcopal Church of the Annunciation | Marietta

Bliss Peterson was terrified that she would say or do the wrong thing to someone who grieved. But pastoral care training was required to become a licensed lay minister. “When I’m that scared, that means I’m usually supposed to lean in,” said Peterson, an attorney and mother of four.

And so she did. During the training, her brother died. Soon, so did her mother. The rector at The Episcopal Church of the Annunciation went on sabbatical, and grieving parishioners turned to the senior warden. Peterson was ready to support, with new mindfulness skills and confidence so that she could respond meaningfully.

“Being able to assist with pastoral care needs has given me a lot of purpose,” she said. “That training helped me learn how to quiet my monkey brain so that I can hear what my direction might be.”

As a licensed lay minister since February 2023, Peterson hopes to serve in other parishes in the diocese that would benefit from her ministry. For now, she presides over prayer services and helps deliver the liturgy. Its timeless elements of sacrifice, praise and professing the name of God are “very grounding,” Peterson said.

“I really like The Episcopal Church’s opportunity to be part of a progressive, Christian denomination, while having this significant tie to the ancient,” she added. “This liturgy has been performed in a very similar way, if not the same way, for hundreds of years. I like thinking about the connection to people in the past, and feeling more like there will be a connection with people in the future. The liturgy is brought alive for me when I am involved in it and not just passively reciting it.”

The pastoral care training, led by lay volunteer pastoral caregivers through The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany’s Community of Hope, is shaped by Benedictine spirituality. It helped Peterson accept what she had long argued with God: that suffering is part of the human condition, as is joy.

By leaning into her sense of inadequacy, Peterson discovered that God never expects perfection. “Anyone can be in relationship with God,” she said. “You don’t have to be or do or say just the right thing. God loves and wants me as I am. And this experience helped me really, truly see, understand and feel it. And that makes me want to do whatever I can do to help others feel that same way.”