Different kind of funeral

I have had a whole new experience of ministry over the last couple of weeks.  A member of our congregation approached the ministry team to ask if we could conduct the funeral of her mother-in-law.  Her husband appears regularly at social events (e.g. cafe each week), but not at church.  Naturally, my Training Incumbent agreed, and I got to take the funeral.  

So far so good but this is the first time I have undertaken an occasional office (i.e. Baptism, Marriage, Funeral) of anyone connected with the congregations, or indeed, connected to me.  The son was very well organised, and gave me lots of information about his mum, so I went through the normal funeral preparation process.  I was surprised how concerned I was that this should be a “good” funeral for the whole family – please don’t interpret that as me not caring usually!  But I was aware that this would impact on the life of the congregation as well as on a family.  Normally there is no overlap.

In the event, this afternoon seemed to go very well.  I got lots of nodding and the occasional chuckle during the tribute, and also emotions seemed to be released a little.  I hope that the combination of “Goodbye…but not forever” and of celebration of a wonderful life will lead to the beginning of recovery.

It struck me that for some ministers this would be very normal, but for our parish, the vast majority of occasional offices are for people who do not come to church, and who aren’t part of the worshipping congregation.  I was surprised how different it felt.  And thankful that it went well!

Of course, there is an element of self interest.  Word will get back to my Training Incumbent, and it’s been a year since he’s seen me do a funeral, so he’ll probably be glad of some feedback.  But there is also a need so show that Occasional Offices and regular services do feed off each other, and that both can be healing.  


2 responses to “Different kind of funeral

  1. Sadly I've had to do several funerals over the last year for people who belonged to the congregation – most recently for someone who's been a bit of a Mum to me. I'm aware that this is subtly different to your experience here, but yes there is something different.

    When it's a member of the congregation, as well as a true Christian celebration of life amidst the grief, there is a stronger sense of coming together, of community. I've found it adds something in fact to the whole of worship/social time in the surrounding period because a shared grief seems to almost make us more honest/real. Perhaps it's just me, I don't know.

    The closer the relationship to the church, and/or to yourself, the harder the funeral is to take. But, actually having the privilege of doing it is even greater. (She says sounding wise, but only have been playing this game as a lay minister for a year herself – it's just been a tough/brilliant year of funerals.)

    Have to say – so far funerals have brought me the most joy and satisfaction at having done God's work about half right!

  2. Thanks for that – as the curate, I am unlikely to take many truly “church” funerals, simply because our Incumbent and Reader both have a longer relationship with the Benefice than I will have. We've had about four “close” funerals this year, and I didn't know any of the people, because they were all now Home Communions, too frail to attend, and I hadn't met them.
    When (If!) I am an Incumbent, I suspect that more will fall to me.

    Like you, I have got a lot out of funeral ministry over the last year: those who know me will realise that I've come a very long way!

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