Wednesday, June 25, 2008


This morning we had a very large memorial service here. The man who died was raised in this parish ... baptized, confirmed, Sunday school, Scouts... and his younger sister is still a staunch parishioner, and the wife of another staunch and active parishioner.

so far as I can tell, though -- neither the widow nor the daughters of the "decedent" are parishioners anywhere, or ever have been.

But they wanted a memorial in the church, because it's so bee-you-tee-ful. And it is, that's quite true.

There is no point in asking them what hymns they would like -- "hymns?" or what Scripture they would like read -- "oh we have such a nice reading right here" and they come out with some ort or shred of A Course in Miracles -- half-a-teaspoonful of Plato mixed with a gallon of swamp water.

And does anybody else have this problem -- people who ask for a church service such as a wedding or a funeral/memorial and then approach the whole thing from a kind of PICNIC mentality..."well we'll have to bring some matches to light the candles, and we'll have to decide where to stand, and what happens next, and who should do what"...

I had one participant, wannabe participant, drifting about the place half an hour before the service, waving a box of fireplace matches and saying, "could I light that tall candle, you know, the one with the design on it, could I light it now?"

Fireplace matches, I ask you...

It's a trivial thing but it's a them, this is "just another rentable hall." And I am the catering manager.

I am discouraged and depressed.


Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Oh yeah. The worst I've had was having to stop in the middle of a wedding ceremony to tell the woman who had hopped up on the altar area to get a better angle for her photo that she needed to step away. She clearly intended to keep right on until she had her photo snapped. I stood, back to bride and groom and face to her (so much for her photo), and POINTED to her empty seat in the front row before she departed! UNBELIEVABL!

I'm sorry, and it is depressing. It speaks not only of the growing lack of religious understanding, but also of really bad manners. Among other things.

mibi52/ The Rev. Dr. Mary Brennan Thorpe said...

Ouch! I wonder how the younger sister and her husband might have been helpful in reshaping the approach to this...but I guess it's not her job. She knows what the widow is about. Did the daughters ever attend (as children)? Seems like an odd family dynamic, but that me just be me.

My husband PH, a minister and pastoral counselor, once presided at a wedding in a Historic Site, with a bride and groom who were nominally Christian, and the music was Yanni, and they wanted readings from Rumi and Kahlil Gibran. Why have a Christian wedding if it isn't going to be Christian? I think it was one of the last weddings he did, outside of people with whom he had a relationship and knew that THEY knew what it was about. It makes the euro tradition of civil marriage ceremonies, with a blessing of the union for those who understand the theology of the thing.

On the other hand, I led a funeral in a little low-cost funeral parlor for a three-month-old who had been a patient in the ward where I did my chaplain training. A young cousin sang "His Eye Is On The Sparrow," they knew what Scripture they wanted read, the attendees knew what I was talking about in my homily, there were many "amens" and it was about God and Tamia and not about the place. It was humbling. Some people still get it, even at the most painful times in their life.

Beauty is as beauty does, I guess.

Terri said...

Oh my, yes. In my congregation I have almost one funeral a week (and then I have those weeks with several funerals that make up for the one week or so when I don't have one)...anyway, a lot. Some are really wonderful, filled with people who just "get it."...

and then there are those...just like you describe...and the services leave me feeling sad (and sometimes mad, actually)...sigh

Jim said...

Actually, weddings *shoud* be easier, because they are voluntary.

There is always the "marriage preparation course" gambit to put off the convinced "Red Sails in the Sunset" crowd.

Funerals are harder, because they are not really part of an elective process, and the sincere believer in the family is most often least able to influence the thing.

There are some techniques. Get ritual, if available. Put the Eulogy, or the Encomium or Soliloquy either right at the end, when everyone wants to leave, or right at the beginning (before the coffin is brought up the aisle) so that there is a universal desire that the speaker Get On With It.

If it is at the beginning, have the coffin and procession standing at the back, so that it is obvious that everyone is waiting.

If it is at the end, there is the less subtle technique of having the sexton start ringing the church bell (one for every year that the person lived!) and signal the undertakers to move in.

For excrescences in between, use the narcissist's ignorance against him.

If he wants to have joss sticks, or dancing or what-not, fix him with a steely gaze and say, "There are very profound theological reasons that we do not do that in this tradition FOR ANY REASON," or words to that effect.

There is also the "The Departed wanted a service in keeping with his faith. I think he would have found your suggestion deeply distressing."

There is also the "what do you really feel?" method, to get them to say why they want a particular reading. Once they say a theme or subject, deftly insert the appropriate scripture, supplemented with any of the above techniques.

If you have any Canon Law, to fall back on (or scripture!), sympathize with the suggestion and finish with "But I am expressly forbidden to do that or even allow it."

There is also the use of the musician. Our organist has for forty years flatly refused to play the Wagner wedding march because of its pagan associations and the Mendelsohn because it's dreck. ("And of course, by the terms of his employment contract, it really is *his* organ, unless I fire him between now and the funeral, which I dont really think I can.")

You can always lay off some of the heat on a cooperative musical colleague (who probably feels the same as you, and expresses him or herself less subtly).

Finally, there is the "offensively Christian" riposte. They cannot prevent you from preaching in your own pulpit. You can get right down & dirty, as indicated by the circumstances, in the bits that they have *not* thought to specify. Few, if any, non-believers have any idea how many invocations of the Trinity, references to the Resurrection, Salvation and "there is only one way to God," signs of the cross, censings, aspersions and the like you can stick in without breaking a sweat.

(Conversely, if there are Jewish mourners, it's amazing how much of the service can be done without reference to the New Testament at all!)

Start by coming very slowly down the aisle, intoning *all* of the Funeral Sentences from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in a loud, clear, solemn voice.

Let's see them follow that with Rumi in an indifferent translation!

You have a far better script, far more brains and much more experience than they do. Overwhelm them.

And when you have marginalized that which should have been sidelined from the start, resist the urge to murmur "Whar's yer Khalil Gibran the noo!" on the way out.

spookyrach said...

"half-a-teaspoonful of Plato mixed with a gallon of swamp water"

Makes me wish I could cross-stitch.

Jan said...

I am so sorry. Even with that attitude, I hope and pray you brought them some comfort and a hint of life in community.

Diane M. Roth said...

I have this more with weddings than funerals. One wedding I didn't end up doing because as I was going through the worship service, they realized that the groom was just not Christian enough.

My last funeral was like that, a little though. Although she was ok with scripture, she wanted all this popular music. and she treated our funeral lunch coordinator as if she was her personal caterer.

Crimson Rambler said...

bless you all for your good help. Yes, it's an odd family dynamic, and Jim is quite right that the most devout in the family are the least influential -- they've sort of spent their capital getting the service in the church... I confess, mompriest, I get mad too. This is not good for my pastoral efficacy.
I put the eulogy right after the words of welcome...we so seldom have a proper casket-in-the-church funeral...and I would never let it be at the end, I've seen services disintegrate into snivellings and mumblings...I always give the gospel the last word! And then
I fortified myself by putting on ALL the 17th century raiment I own -- including, as it was an "office" and not a sacramental service, the crimson doctoral hood and the black tippet. GARB, I said to myself, GARB.
And I told them in the sermon (the text was 1 Cor 15 as excerpted in the BCP) that all I had to say could be summarized in nine words.
Latin words, unfortunately, but only nine:
He lived in virtue, he lives in memory, he shall live in glory.
It went sort of: he lived in virtue AND NOW HE'S DEAD. He lives --for now-- in our memories, AND WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE TOO. But he and we are promised that he will be raised to glory by the sheer unmerited goodness of God, to which the resurrection of Jesus Christ IN THE BODY is witness. And we are promised that also. Therefore let us not be sorrowful as those without hope, nor weary of welldoing.
That was the gist of it...and we sang the "Nunc Dimittis" to the chant by Barnby.
But the final ultimate straw was this...I had assisted the family to choose "For All the Saints" to get them out of the church and into the hall and away from the staircase and the doors, figuring that the congregation would be held by the eight verses and give us a breathing space.
NOPE...the bunch the pews just all came trailing out after the family, hymn or no hymn. We don't actually sing in church, we sit or stand and stare blankly at the musician.
I was so vexed...sheer ignorant bad manners. Gnash gnash.

Shalom said...

I really think that "He lived in virtue AND NOW HE'S DEAD" ought to be an option for funeral service bulletin covers. Succinct, yet profound. :)

I've been down the same road a million times. Never gets easier...sounds like you did well.