My mother went to her rest last Wednesday. Her last week and a half was painful both for her and the family. During this time, I discovered the significance of congregations and a sensitive pastor in helping us deal with the pain of our impending and ultimately real loss. Although Mom’s physical condition had kept her from church during the last few years of her life, her church family did not totally ignore her; a few visited her regularly.
We held a service for her on Friday in a small chapel of the parochial school where she’d taught music and art for many years. Granted, she was 91 when she passed, having outlived most of her age-peer friends, I was nonetheless struck by the faith and support of the few who attended her service. In addition to warm things being said about her, my family and I were comforted by these strong affirmations of hope given. The officiating pastor shared “funerals were not for the dead but the living”. I totally concur.
Life is hard, fast, and then we die. Most congregations have regular opportunities to meet together to honor those among them who deceased. I believe these services can be just as important as weekend services.
In a Christianity Today article titled, Life-Giving Funerals, well-known pastor/author Calvin Ratz shares some important advice about the role of pastors and congregations with respect to funerals and comforting the bereaved.
“How we bury the dead goes a long way in determining our acceptance in a community and the depth of our spiritual impact on a congregation.
I love funerals. Not that I enjoy death, it’s just that I agree with Solomon, who said, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Eccles. 7:2 niv). After talking and praying with the bereaved, I go home feeling I’ve made a difference; I’ve touched people at the point of their deepest need.
Burying the dead is part of pastoral turf. How we handle it goes a long way in determining our acceptance in a community and the depth of our spiritual impact on a congregation. Any strengths I muster can lose their power if I can’t help people who are bereaved.
A well-handled funeral can be the best opportunity for genuine public relations a church and its pastor can have. It doesn’t lead to instant church growth, but it breaks down barriers and builds an attitude of respect and appreciation. It’s a positive point of contact with people who have drifted away from the church.
Whenever I’ve gone to a new congregation, I realize my first funeral is a chance to let the people see a side of me not obvious from the pulpit. Parishioners are initially skeptical about a new leader. They’re wondering what the new pastor will be like and how much they can trust him or her. When they see me conduct a funeral service, people notice whether I care about them as individuals, even in their darkest moments.“
I realize it’s Advent season, and these are somber words, but Christians should be able to approach death with assurances of hope, regardless of the season. For me it has been an important time to consider how congregations and pastors might better come together to deal with loss. It’s our Christian heritage. How is your church doing?