Thursday 4 December 2014

More than 'Just a service' - Funerals

Again I have been reminded of just how wonderful it is, and how amazingly privileged I am, to be involved in the ministry of conducting funerals. For although people often look at me as if I have a screw missing when I tell them that, 'Funerals are the best bit of my job,' but this is the God's honest truth.

I don't think we can do anything more meaningful and important than to ensure that the last opportunity to be in the same place as a loved one is made as positive and as smooth as possible, especially in these days when we don't seem to grieve or mourn as well as we used. I meet some people who fail to grieve in any meaningful or restorative manner such that, as witnessed by the death of Princess Diana, when tragedy strikes elsewhere - all the pent up grief is expended in one outpouring. An outpouring that is rarely proportionate or healthy.

One of the tasks of the minister is to point to the (realised) hope that we have in Jesus, the Christ, and as we do this we assist those who mourn to celebrate the life of their loved one; laughing and celebrating where it is appropriate and weeping where it is inevitable and (and it is) essential. The problem is that often, listening to the service before that which I am to do,  what I hear is still plaster sainted, wrongly placed and plaster removing deliveries.

I reckon every funeral takes (at least) a day of work from first encounter to the end of the service and there have been some that stretch this beyond that (especially when there's travel involved). Looking at the year thus far I can confidently say that funerals have taken up over a quarter of 2014 and so, as I reflect on a year almost passed' a plea:

Please remember that a funeral service, be it church, graveside or crematorium, is something really important and much more than, "Half an hour at the Crem!" ( as one person dismissed it).

The energy and engagement, the emotional demand placed on the minister and the intellectual  challenges - where wisdom, gentle guidance and finely honed counselling skills are all demanded - is something to be understood and supported by church members. Supported by prayer and understanding that when people find themselves in a place where they need a neighbour - the neighbour that is Church and the hope that is the Christ, is our primary and of the utmost important role.

Funerals - not a service but a ministry where we come alongside the bereaved - truly an opportunity to make resurrection and parakletos (the 'coming alongside' that is the hallmark of the Holy Spirit) a reality in the life of those with a need.


Perpetua said...

I agree wholeheartedly and tried to make the same commitment when I was in active parish ministry.

Intonsus said...

A privilege indeed. And you are right to mention the emotional burden involved, which I think few understand. To be involved yet distant so that you can lead, to be alongside without being openly immersed, to be open to the social, spiritual, and familial currents so that one may hear and respond to things that often people do not understand themselves yet alone know how to express, all this is costly - rightly so. It needs to be taken to the cross, yet parishes sometimes resent time spent in prayer and not 'doing'.

Sarah Hillman said...

I've only just read this, but I agree. I love doing funerals (if I'm honest lots more than weddings); it is such a privilege to walk alongside people at this sad time in their lives. I find it humbling how open people are with me when I visit, and being in rural ministry in villages means that my care for the families and friends can continue in many cases long after the day of the funeral itself as I see the people as we go about daily life.