MANATEE -- The Rev. Don Thompson, founder of Transitions Church and Support Group in Manatee County, lost his wife, Jane Riley Thompson, to brain cancer on Jan. 28, 2012.
The couple had been married more than 35 years.
For a man whose church has a mission to help people deal with life's major changes, such as death of a loved one, this was an instance where the minister needed help from his own congregation to get through his own transition.
"I was very lonely, but now I am feeling better," Thompson said Monday, tipping his ever-present baseball cap to church members who helped him during group talk sessions.
A new state of mind was needed to handle the void in his heart, Thompson said.
"I needed to learn gratitude for the time Jane Riley and I had together," Thompson added. "Now I recall those pleasant memories we shared."
Thompson's church can be defined as an interfaith, clergy-facilitated support group. What makes Transitions different from a traditional church is that it responds specifically to the needs of those who come to the church. And Transitions differs from secular support groups in that it has a spiritual context, although not narrowly defined, Thompson said.
"We don't care what religion you
follow, if any," Thompson said. "We come together to share a mutual caring, not to tell people what to believe. We reach out to those suffering from the loss of a spouse, partner, family member or friend or people who are going through some other transitions and need help, It's a small group ministry. It's a ministry that doesn't sit within the four walls of a traditional church. We acknowledge you don't have to be with one faith group to be fully present within the experience."
Six months before she died of her cancer, Thompson's wife stated to church members that she wanted to discuss death. Later, she said was not afraid to die.
"These group meetings have helped me realize I have absolutely nothing to fear," Jane Riley Thompson told her husband.
"The group meetings definitely helped her," Thompson said.
Thompson believes Transitions might be the only clergy-facilitated support group in Manatee that is not aligned with a certain faith, like Christian, Jewish or Presbyterian.
"All we really want to know is, 'Have you suffered a great loss, such as the loss of a loved one, job, health, been forced to leave home or otherwise struggled with addictions? Or Are you wondering what to do now?' '' Thompson said. "That's why we come together as a group, helping each other with clergy leadership. We are intentionally inclusive of people of all races, and religions. We don't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression."
The Rev. Marilyn Johnson of the International Council of Community Churches and the Rev. Dee Graham, a Unitarian Universalist, help Thompson lead groups at the church.
Jane Riley Thompson often said of Transitions, "I value that everyone gets a chance to share and feel empowered in their own lives."
The church has an intentional outreach to the lesbian, gay and transgender community, Thompson said.
Formerly meeting at the Congregational United Church of Christ on 26th Street West, Transitions is now meeting 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sundays at Christ United Methodist Church, 5512 26th Street W., Room 3.
The church is also meeting 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the Campus Ministry Building (Bldg. 4) of the State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton.
The Tuesday session is a combination of campus ministry and an outreach to all young adults and non-traditional students, Thompson said. But community members who prefer Tuesdays or the SCF location are welcome as well, Thompson said.
To get to the SCF location, go in the 26th Street West entrance, park in the visitor lot, and walk west on the campus sidewalk to get to the Campus Ministry Building. Look for signs announcing Traditions.
Transitions Church and Support Group is a member of the International Council of Community Churches, which was founded with 50 percent white churches and 50 percent black churches in 1950, Thompson said.
For more information, contact The Rev. Don Thompson at 941-739-7103 or by email at email@example.com. Transitions maintains a Facebook page at Facebook.com/TransitionsChurch.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.