In seminary I was told repeatedly by professors that funerals were easier to do than weddings. Why? Because at a wedding you had a bride who had been planning this event since the age of three, with definite ideas about what she wanted, and who was influenced by every bad wedding she had ever been to. Add in a wedding planner, photographer, videographer and assorted drunk groomsmen, and you were in for a rough time of it.
Meanwhile, funerals involved life-long church members who wanted only to hear the word of God from their trusted pastor in their time of grief.
Now, I suppose that may have been true in about 1970. Maybe even into the 1980’s and early 1990’s. But by the time I was ordained in 1998, the two were equally difficult. Today there is no question. The average pastor would much rather deal with a bride and her princess wedding fantasies than with a grieving family. Why? (WARNING: MANY GLARING GENERALITIES AHEAD. ADD THE WORDS “GENERALLY”, “USUALLY”, OR “OFTEN” AS NEEDED)
Because in the case of a bride, she will only even bother with a church wedding if she is part of the church. Most conversations with brides never get beyond the “do you have any roommates” phase, if you know what I mean. Those who make it past that are interested, not in a fairy tale wedding, but in a marriage; as evidenced by their not moving in before the blessed event. So, while pastors encounter angry would-be brides, if he sticks to his guns about the “move out or get married immediately” thing, then the Bridezillas just find somewhere else to get married, and weddings are a snap.
For funerals, however, you now have families that have not been a part of the church since the Carter Administration coming to you to bury their dearly departed, who was a faithful member of the congregation for lo, these many years. The sons and daughters have no interest in the church. They want what they want for their loved one. The phrase “Mom wanted this for her funeral” really means, “I want this for mom’s funeral, because I don’t care what the church teaches. And if you don’t like it, you won’t be doing the funeral. The Methobapticostal guy down the street with do it for us.” The family will hold the body of the deceased hostage over whatever bad ideas they have for a funeral. And you should hear some of the things that pastors must now contend with.
Click here, if your stomach is strong enough. I couldn’t finish the article. It details how the “funeral industry” (The term itself gives me the willies) is dealing with the new predilection for what can only be termed agnostic remembrance rites.
Pastors are finding these things coming into their churches with alarming frequency. I had a funeral director once tell me that if I wanted to do the service a certain way, I would need the approval of the family. I told him that I was happy to discuss it with the family, but it wasn’t optional. Since it was only minutes before the funeral, there would be no time to get a more compliant minister. The family agreed, not because of an ultimatum on my part, but because, in the words of the funeral director, “Oh, you want a church funeral at the funeral home!” Fortunately, they knew that mom was a church-going member, and that she wanted a funeral in keeping with that. They were far more reasonable than the funeral director. Such is not always the case. Pastors have had the body snatched away from them. No funeral for this faithful member because the pastor wanted to do a funeral that the dearly departed would have wanted to have.
The problem is (as the article points out) that the funeral director is seen as the spiritual guide on this journey of grief. The pastor is merely the hired actor who performs the pageant. If you don’t like his style of acting, or if he won’t do the pageant you want, you simply hire a new actor. They are, after all, a dime a dozen.
I think the time is quickly coming when pastors need to take a stand and say, “This is what we do for your loved one, and you know in your heart of hearts it is what she wanted us to do. But if that’s not what you want, you can take the body away for your pagan rituals. We expect the church to suffer, even as we try to respect the memory of the saints who have gone before. We will have a service in the church, to which you are absolutely invited. We will have a luncheon afterwards to remember the life of service they had in the church, and to celebrate the life they have now, a life that is better than we can imagine, and you are also invited to that. But know this, each of these events will be done according to our rite. And even if you snatch the body away, I will go to the cemetery at some point, and I will commit the body of this saint to God’s care, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. And all of this is true because the church is not transformed by the world. We who are a part of the church are transformed by Christ. So, hold hostage the body of this saint if you will. But do not ask us to be less than what she was, or to offer her less than she deserves.”