We’ve All Been There

Any pastor who has been in the ministry more than about five minutes has had it happen. A faithful and beloved member of the parish dies.  You, as her pastor want to do the best job you can to reflect the hope she had in Christ at her funeral.

Then you meet the family.  They know what they want to do, that *&^% pastor better not tell them they can’t do… whatever it is.  Of course, they don’t realize that what they are really saying is, “Pastor, I know my mother firmly believed all of this.  But I don’t and so I want to do things my way, denying the hope she had.”

Sometimes the pastor can gently explain the teachings of the church in a way that helps the bereaved understand what is happening, so that they agree to go with the church’s teaching. Sometimes the pastor will agree to something that is far from “best practices”, and allows something that he hopes no one else thinks they want for their own funeral.  And sometimes the family decides, the moment the pastor even hints that what they have suggested is unwise, that the pastor is an enemy to be vanquished at all costs.

The worst case scenario is that the family holds the body hostage, taking it somewhere else for a funeral that does not at all reflect what they believed. (“We’re going to honor mom by having a bunch of stuff happen that she would have despised.”) The second worst case scenario is that the funeral happens, followed by much fallout.

You can’t have much more fallout that national news coverage.  I feel for the priest in the WaPo story.  I really do.  But the coverage is far from balanced.  For an even more unbalanced piece, check out the MNSBC version.  But at least MSNBC asks her whether she is, in fact Roman Catholic.  Her answer?

“I’m a Catholic. I’m deeply influenced by eastern religion philosophy and the nonviolence of Gandhi and the Dalai Lama along with my church upbringing.”

That should raise some red flags.  How about this interview she gave where she says:

we had also become friends and had been going to a buddhist center together. i found out the group was against the dalai lama and i left it because i am very much a student of the dalai lama.

Oh, and did anyone notice that her name is listed there as Barbara Johnson-Gresser?  So, it seems that she is more than just a lesbian.  She is pretending at marriage.  Would that change things?  According to some Roman Catholic Canon Law sites, no.  Not until more admonition had occurred, and the priest had actually declared the person to be outside of the Roman Catholic faith (either via interdict or excommunication).  Personally, I would have no trouble telling this woman, “You can’t commune here.”  Would I do it in the manner the priest did?  Well, since we haven’t heard from the priest, it’s hard to say.  I’m guessing it wasn’t as rash as we have been led to believe.

I will say that if I had to endure two eulogies and a grand-mal tantrum from the daughter of the deceased and her lesbian life partner regarding said eulogies, I would probably have a migrane as well.

As for Fr. Guarnizo, I sent him the following e-mail:

I’m a Lutheran pastor in Wyoming. Just read the MSNBC article. I wanted to say “Thank you” for being faithful. I have been there and done that regarding funerals. Fortunately, the national media never picked up on me. I know many other priests/pastors/ministers are giving thanks to God for your faithfulness. Keep up the good work.

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