It has been interesting processing all of the comments that I received following the recent series that I did on “End of Life Issues.” Not surprisingly, your comments ran the gamut from --- “I don’t come to church to hear about those kinds of things,” to “thanks, that was the most significant series of sermons you have ever preached.” For me personally, this was a foundational sermon series, one that is essential so that we can build on top of it. But before I can move beyond it, I want to share a little bit more. What follows are my guidelines for Funeral and Memorial Services.
As soon as possible, please notify the church and/or one of the pastor’s of your loved one’s death. We hopefully have already been in dialog with you as you have journeyed down this difficult road, but we want to make sure that we can be ministering with you during this time of loss.
Hopefully, your loved one will have already thought about their funeral/memorial service and the church will have a copy of their desires on file. But if not, you will have a few decisions to make. First, do you want a funeral or a memorial service?
Through the centuries, Christians have marked the end of life with a service of worship; three kinds are offered. FUNERAL SERVICE is a worship service that is held in the church or elsewhere in which the body of the deceased is present. A COMMITTAL SERVICE is held at the graveside, or a crematorium immediately preceding burial or cremation. A committal service typically follows a funeral service, but it can be the only service celebrating the life of the deceased. A MEMORIAL SERVICE is a worship service held at anytime and anyplace, after the body has been disposed of.
Secondly, who do you want to preside over the service? In our Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, it is the policy that the appointed pastor preside over all weddings and funerals, and that only with their consent may another pastor participate in these types of events. I want to state emphatically, that I have no problem if you would like someone else to preside at your funeral (or wedding) – I will be happy to share the service with them, or step out of the way. While I say that, please be aware that not all pastors would agree with me, and they are within their rights to not allow a former pastor to participate in a funeral (or wedding) service.
One other note, I will preside over anyone’s funeral if I can fit it into my schedule, regardless if they are affiliated with the church or not. I believe that this is one of the most important opportunities that we have to live out the love that Jesus demonstrated to us through his life. Please be aware that there may be times when I am unable to officiate even though that is your desire, please know that I grieve that I am not able to be there with you as well.
No two funeral services should be exactly alike. Each service should exemplify the deceased faith. Whether it should be held in the church or a funeral home or some location really depends on the family. I know that for many to hold a funeral in the church and then to have to return for worship on Sunday is difficult.
The service itself consists of prayers, scripture and celebrations of our loved one’s life. Some traditions discourage Eulogies, I do not. I believe that there is no greater testimonial than when a loved one shares some of the joy that their deceased friend brought to their life.
The committal service is a very brief service often held in a chapel at the cemetery, but occasionally (and I prefer) at the graveside. It generally consists of a few passages of scripture, prayers and a benediction. The committal service can be included in the funeral service so there is not a need to travel to the cemetery.
A memorial service is virtually the same as a funeral, the only difference is the body is not present and it can be held at the family’s convenience, often days or weeks later.
A word about music. I know that many will disagree with me, but I believe that any music that was appropriate for the deceased is appropriate in the service. That is because I do not believe that there is a difference between sacred and secular. In my worldview everything is sacred. Music can be played on cd’s or it can be live. If your service is being held at the church, there will be a fee for the organist.
Remember, you will not be attending your own funeral. Nevertheless, you can help ensure that your service is a moving, comforting witness to your relationship with God and your family and friends. Take time to fill out a LIFE INVENTORY so that the service will really reflect your beliefs (and update it often).
One final word, remember, these are my guidelines, and not all pastors may agree with them, keep that in mind as you plan for the future.