Monday, December 13, 2004

As I read the Sunday newspaper last night, I saw a column in the Advice section lamenting the rotten job a preacher did at a funeral. The writer said the preacher knew nothing about the deceased and told stories about himself for the eulogy. The advice columnist said she hoped that this was an isolated incident for clergy.
It isn't.
Over the years, I've heard the WORST funeral eulogies on the planet. Here are some examples:
1. The preacher berates the family to "get saved" because the decedent wanted to meet the family in heaven.
If this isn't abuse, I don't know what is. Using the funeral to guilt vulnerable family members into "getting right with God" is manipulative, short-sighted and not helpful.
2. Watching a priest rush through the funeral service as though he had 50 more to do in the next hour. This was in a sanctuary with a large group of worshippers. I understood 1 out of 5 words the priest said as he appeared to be speed reading the liturgy.
3. At the request of the family, I assisted in a funeral with a preacher who hated the idea of a woman preacher sitting up there with him in the God Section. Hated it. My part of the service was a prayer. One prayer. That was fine with me, I was just wanted to be supportive of the family. The preacher referred to the dead woman by my name, told fishing stories (the decedent didn't fish) and mentioned several times how he didn't really know the dead woman but sorta knew her nephew.
Here are some funeral tips for Preachers:
a. If you don't know the dead person, speak with a family member and find out what kind of funeral is desired.
Ask about the descendant's life, interests, favorite scripture passages and hymns. Get to know the dead person as best you can.
b. The funeral isn't about the preacher. It is a witness to the resurrection of the dead person. Celebrate the life of the one who has "gone on."
c. Affirm for the family that the loved one is really gone and won't be back. Talk about how the relationship has changed with the death and that a new relationship, albeit different, can be forged through memories. Remind the congregation that the family will need support not just today but in the coming months. Ask the congregation to stay close to the grieving family.
d. Please do not speculate on whether or not the dead person made it to heaven. This is God's business, not yours. Don't add to the families upset by suggesting that the dead person is roasting his or her bum in Hell. Not helpful.
e. Turn off your cell phone before the service begins.
You have other funeral horror stories and tips for preachers. Add 'em to the comment list. I want to know what you are thinking.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

One of the best funerals (if there is such a thing!) I ever attended was a complete celebration of the life of a young man who died of liver cancer. His family came dressed in bright colours, his surfboard was on display (his body wasn't! - not a coffin in sight), and we spent 3 hours remembering him with joy and realizing how much he would be missed with tears. The pastor had personally walked through the valley of the shadow with him, and he had been assigned a supportive woman of God to pray and be with him during the last struggles he faced. It was like no funeral I've ever been to, a unique and wonderful experience, though tinged through with heartache.