Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bring Out Your Dead

We spent most of the daylight hours in church on Sunday.

It was all good stuff. In the morning we had a three-fer adult baptism -- we've been seeing a lot of those lately -- so church ran long. After a quick lunch and an errand in the neighborhood, we were back in church that afternoon for a half informational meeting/half brainstorming session on how our church "does" funerals and how we can help families, both in the church and those with little or no connection to our parish, during a time of transition in our society -- largely based on economics -- regarding how we care for our dead.

Our pastor thinks that families are increasingly choosing, or being forced by economics, to take back more responsibility for caring for their dead; finding alternatives to funeral-home-planned funerals and burials; having to do more with less time and less money. So part of our discussion was about our church's capacity for assuming some of that burden; offering to host visitations at our church, for instance. We talked about the increasing popularity of cremation and increasing tendency for people's remains to wind up somewhere other than a cemetery, and how a columbarium and/or a memorial wall and/or memorial garden might be a creative way to respond to that as well as to ease the pressure on our rapidly filling church graveyard.

We also began talking about how to assist our unchurched neighbors in bereavement while at the same time providing some guidance and boundaries in terms of funeral protocol (as in, "Highway to Hell" as funereal hymn, tequila shots in memory of the deceased and other DIY rituals are not appropriate elements of a Christian funeral) and cost-sharing. We can pull off a pretty cheap funeral for a truly financially hurting family; but there are other equally thrifty alternatives in our community, so we don't want to become patsies for people who pretty much want to throw Gramps into the nearest hole and fuggetaboutit.

Spending almost two hours talking about subjects like the logistics of hosting the dead in our sanctuary overnight ("Might not be a good idea on a lock-in weekend," someone deadpanned) might not sound like the most pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon...but Fellow Traveler and I came away from this feeling like our congregation is going through some good, healthy growing pains that are goading us into better people and a better faith community.


Mary Sue said...

tequila shots in memory of the deceased and other DIY rituals are not appropriate elements of a Christian funeral

Awwwwwww! Take all the fun out of it.

(Okay, so it's not appropriate for in church, but I fully expect at my funeral there will be surreptitious tequila shots in the parking lot.)

LutheranChik said...

That's what wakes are for!

Pastor said...

People do strange things in the face of death, don't they? A family in my congregation, faithful members, brought donuts into the narthex, where grandma's viewing was taking place. That was odd enough to most of those attending the viewing...but the kicker came when one of her granddaughters insisted that grandma need a white-iced, sprinkle donut in the casket with her. Thankfully, the funeral director put a stop to that, preventing me from getting involved.

Around here, the funeral homes refuse to leave bodies at the church overnight, even when we're willing to host (for lack of a better word) them. My husband and I (both pastors) have been told that the funeral homes' insurance companies won't allow it.

Oh...and I'm jealous that you get to be part of a congregation vibrant enough to be bringing in--and baptizing--adults!

Tom in Ontario said...

If you build a columbarium or memorial wall in your cemetery or somewhere else on your church property then build a Communion table into the plans. Then you can do an outdoor Easter sunrise worship service among the dead who will one day be raised. A perfect Easter tradition to start.

Mompriest said...

I will have a funeral for anyone any time in the church. It is a great way to evangelize by comforting the grieving and teaching some generous Christian hospitality and love. But they have to use the Burial Office or a slightly revised version of it and they have to use scripture - it is after all a Christian church and burial. Then I use the sermon time to teach the Christian understanding of life, death, and the afterlife - in a gentle way. Some of these have been the finest funerals I've ever done.

But the tequila shots will have to wait for the reception afterward - preferable NOT in the parish hall. But if they want to serve wine at the reception I'll let them do that, so long as food and other beverages are also available.

That said, some folks simply don't want to comply with the requirements for burial out of a Christian church - and so, then it's a good idea to have inexpensive alternatives to offer...In Chicago the cremation society was a great resource. They will do eveything for almost no cost...

LutheranChik said...

In our neighborhood the township cemetery has very reasonable burial plot costs, and there's lots of room. One of the perks of rural living...I know how much urban/suburban plots are.

Trish said...

I like that you're brainstorming on this for many reasons, but number 1 is because our culture seems to be so "death-avoidant." We took our confirmation students to a funeral home about a month ago, and the kids FREAKED out. The director showed a video about someone's life, took us on a tour, and showed the "preparation room," although they have NEVER used that room for that purpose in that funeral home. The FH is a chain and they do all the preparations at their other place. But, kids and parents alike were not happy and I had to talk to a parent and some kids further about it. We never saw any bodies, blood, guts, or anything. The room was well lit and didn't smell funny. So, I like that you're talking about funerals and doing what you can to "de-grossify" funerals (because they're NOT gross).

Joan of Quark said...

OK, but now I have the subversive desire to sneak the organist a crate of Bombay Sapphire to bribe him to slip a few bars of Highway to Hell into the prelude of my funeral. Is that naughty?