Monday, 20 May 2013

Funeral Service - The usual please

Had a most interesting conversation with someone asking for advice for a funeral of a dearly departed in that whilst I'm not 'doing' the service, they wanted some advice about what they should ask for.

The reason for this was that they'd been to a funeral I'd done and wanted the service they were commissioning to be 'as good' but were worried because, having 'suffered' the local cleric twice before, they wanted to give them my 'usual' service to do.

This opened for me a raft of questions and a few positional bits, for there is no such thing as a 'usual' service when it comes to Church and even less so when dealing with funerals, and it is this that I think I am most sorely pressed and troubled!

Every time I meet with a family to arrange a funeral I am aware that there are many option before them and I seek, as much as possible, to get them to make the service theirs rather than have the elements imposed on them. This means that they select the music for entry and exit (although having left the crem' to a Gangsta Rap song - for an 80+ year old! - I am a little more wary these days) and they make their choices over the hymns (which will often hearken back to morning assembly at school) and the Bible reading (another issue as many are happy to 'leave it to you').

The funeral service is the most important of all the services we can do with a loved one for it is the last opportunity the mourners have to be physically present in the same place as their loved one and so it has to be the best experience they can have (can it ever be good I ask myself). So many people I meet tell me of nightmares where given names rather than familiars and facts and the like were incorrect. Times when the music was wrong (Love divine, all loves excelling - which tune? English or Welsh*) or, as happened last week the wrong track is selected and played.

The reality is that the funeral service is full of humans and so the potential for something going wrong increases with the number of people involved. After all there's the Undertaker's staff, the organist, the Minister and those who might contribute in the form of the eulogy (which is about the dead person, not the person talking - something some might bear in mind when offering!).

But error and omission apart the reality is that good preparation; sound note taking and the like mean that the service is as secure as anything can be.

I met someone who, after discussing a service for a former Royal Marine told me that they were about to do an 'ordinary' service at the crem' recently. No such thing - never met an 'ordinary' person yet - there's always something to commend or mark them out - many years of marriage, evacuee, Bevin Boy, work life, orphaned, provided for the family . . . and so much more. Each element conspires to make those we serve at the Crem' and by the graveside extremely special people.

So I answered the questions and made suggestions; explained how and why I do things in my services and I pray that my perspective led to something special - This week as I do my two funerals I will be looking to fulfil the greatest part of any minister's calling, that of being a neighbour when some one is in need of one.

dona eis requiem and 'comforting those who mourn' - two phrases that combine to make the high calling we have special and real.


* To name but two settings!


DrJ said...

Genuine mistakes will usually be understood and forgiven, even if at a later date, and even chuckled over once the time is appropriate. But my wife's father's funeral, before I knew her, still causes her difficulties with all thing church.
Her father committed suicide during a severe and prolonged depressive illness. For the (retired, stand-in minister that the service was passed to in the absence of the incumbent) to make negative theological references to this in the service is, well, not unforgiveable, but you know what I mean. When her mother died, an attempt was made to foist the same minister on the family, and in discussing this with a family friend who was a regular at the local parish church we found that he went but the epiphet "the boozer". We were not popular for refusing to accept his ministrations a second time which, in my view, makes the whole team culpable.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

The lack of pastoral sensitivity exhibited by some people takes my breath away (how I wish it would take away theirs instead). I hear of so many stories like this and I am saddened by some of the inept and woeful clergy and Readers we inflict on the world at large.

What can I do but apologise for your experience - is it any wonder that we are haemorrhaging funerals with stories like this?

DrJ said...

No need to apologise - it wasn't You!

I tell the tale as much to reassure that it is not the relatively trivial muckups that really bother people about funerals, so don't beat yourself up when a hymn gets sung to the wrong tune!

Anonymous said...

Another cautionary note is that the role of the 'officers' (minister, undertakers etc) is to support the family, not to indulge themselves. While it is good and sensitive to empathise with the bereaved, it should be understood that the grief is theirs; any repercussions from echoes of personal experience should be dealt with away from the public ministry.