How to plan a funeral #NaBloPoMo

How to plan a funeral #NaBloPoMo

Today’s prompt comes from BlogHer Blogging: What knowledge do you have that others don’t? Write a “how to” post about anything you’ve got skills for, small or large.

In the first month of ministry, I had three funerals in my community. Nothing about their lives were the same. A baby who had struggled from the beginning. A good and faithful servant entering his nineties. A beloved grandmother.

Armed with my pocket book of worship and a prayer, I managed my way through.

Over time in that community I did more funerals than I can count. One year it was nearly 25 different services. Along the journey, I developed a system of preparation for the service that might be helpful.  My number one goal is always to weave the life story of the person who has died with the story of God.  Using traditional liturgy and pieces I have cut and pasted from various sources, I hope it might be helpful for you also.

 

The Family Meeting

  • What made ____ who he/she was?
  • What will you miss the most?
  • Tell me about where they grew up.
  • How did they meet their spouse? Where did they make their home together?
  • Vocational questions: if homemaker – what kinds of things did she cook/sew, if farmer – what crops/animals, etc.   Stories usually come out here.
  • Ask the funeral director about how they died… then ask follow-up questions with the family: What was it like seeing them in the hospital for so long?  What were their later years like? How did they adjust to a loss of physical ability?
  • Ask about what is important to the family about the funeral itself: music, scriptures, those who speak
  • Be kind. Be firm. Be open.
    • Most families haven’t been through this kind of planning before. They don’t know what they don’t know.
    • They don’t know what is normal. If there are things you feel are inappropriate, it is okay to simply say so, but figure out what that element represented for them and try to incorporate it.
    • Don’t be afraid to embrace the weird… sometimes it is the wonderful.

The Sermon

This  is kind of the basic structure that I work in for most funerals… especially when I don’t know the person.  If I do, I have more freedom to play around and adapt, but this structure helps me to use the above questions to make the meditation personal.

 

  • Today we come together to remember the life of ______________..  Each of you are here today, because you carry with you memories of a dear friend, a neighbor, or an aunt who loved to work with her hands and who loved her family and her friends.
  • Obituary information woven in with stories from the family about his life growing up, marriage, life with kids, his work, what she loved, etc.  Don’t read the obituary… tell their story in four or five paragraphs. Include the little details the family shared

[Name] was born not far from here on June 11, 1927 to [Name] and [Name] .  He served his country faithfully during World War II… [Name]  remembered how the young men would all hop on the train together here to go off to training and to service.  [Name] was actually still in training when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred, and then was later stationed there. 

 In 1949, [Name] married [Name] here in  and together they brought [Name] and [Name] into the world.  [Name] worked for well over forty years with his father and brother as a part of the family business.  And then he watched as [Name] and [Name] came into their lives… and then grandchildren… and eventually great-grandchildren. 

 Even running his own business however, [Name] an knew that work wasn’t everything.  The family remembers fondly weekends hanging out with the neighbors and dancing to Lawrence Welk in the living room – simpler times.  In almost every picture I got to see of [Name] last night at the visitation, he has that great smile on his face… you can see that he was enjoying his life… almost as if he had a secret that he was treasuring in his heart.  [Name] also liked to take time to fish and boat and he liked to take the grandkids camping in the RV. 

  • Connect something about their life story to scripture or a song – something that sums up who they were in a way that connects us with the divine.
  • Be honest about the reality of death and the promise of resurrection:

More recently, you as a family have been through some rough weeks.  A month and a half ago, [Name] had a stroke that dramatically altered your lives.  Unlike some illnesses that gradually overwhelm us – this was a sudden transformation. 

 Perhaps one of the hardest parts that we have to do in this life is accept that all of the things that we love and all of the people that love us eventually will pass on in this life.  In the book of Isaiah we heard the words:  All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades… but the word of our God will stand forever.

 These mortal lives that we lead, they are not forever. [Name] knew this to be true.  (something about their own experience with death – spouse, child, the loss of a physical or mental ability in her last days, etc.) And as some of you gathered around [Name] bedside in her last days and weeks, that was an ever present reality. We come from nothing but dust and to dust we shall return. 

 But in between, we have the opportunity not only to lead beautiful and wonderful lives, but we have the opportunity to clothe ourselves with a new life as well – a life that will endure beyond even the valley of the shadow of death – a life that will extend beyond the grave.

 Jesus told his disciples as they were gathered together that in his Father’s house there is room for many – and that a place was being prepared for them and for us.  As we remember all of those things that you loved about [Name] – we also celebrate that those are the very things that she is able to enjoy once again… that the life in these past years that gradually slipped away from her is now restored – that she is in the presence of our God and that she loves you all dearly.

  • Connect God’s story back to their memories and name very specific things the family has named:

That doesn’t mean that we won’t be sad.  Sometimes when someone has (lived for so long, or suffered for so long or done so much in their life) – we think that we should simply be grateful for how long we did get to share our love with them, grateful that (we got to experience…. Or that their suffering is over… or that we had so much time together) But as we celebrate her life, we remember all of those things that you will miss. You will miss… [be specific! – the smell of cookies baking in her kitchen…. the way he yelled at the television every the Hawkeyes lost… etc. ] 

And we should mourn. Because it means that we remember and that we cherish what we have lost.  But also know that in your time of mourning – we are promised comfort. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The same shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death walks beside each of you today and as you leave this place and walks with you forever more. Amen, and Amen.

MY BIGGEST ADVICE –Figure out what you want to say in general at funerals – what is the message of comfort and hope, life and resurrection that you want to speak.  It is okay for that to be said at every single funeral that you do.  The last third of the above message is what I say most of the time… put the gospel in your own words and continue to share that good news.  The rest is simply weaving in their story with God’s story.

 

The Service

Entrance

Here is where customs will dictate.

  • At my funeral home, the casket remains at the back and when I walk to the front, the director closes the casket and then the music stops and I begin.
  • At the church, the casket is wheeled to the front, I follow and make my way to the pulpit, and the family follows me… the whole church stands as the family enters and then sits only after the words of grace/greeting
  • For a graveside (more later) we all gather, the casket is closed and I start when everyone is present.

 Words of Grace

 Greeting

 Invocation

Psalm 23

Song –

Common Scripture Lessons

  • Ecclesiastes 3: (1-8) 9-15 – use OFTEN for farmers, blue collar folks who enjoyed the work of their hands and were simple people.
  • Gospel Reading – John 14:1-3
  • I also let scriptures from the family direct the mood here – we’ve used the beatitudes, Christmas scriptures, favorite verses ( ask why!) , Revelation 21, etc.

 Message (not long… 5-10 minutes)

 Song –

 Litany of Thanksgiving  (adapted from Book of Worship and from materials at West End UMC, Nashville)

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for all with which you have blessed us even to this day: for the gift of joy in days of health and strength and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise in the days of pain and grief.  It is right and good in this our time of need to offer thanks for [Name]’s life among us. We take comfort in the memories of her presence and the wonderful ways in which she blessed our lives.

(If a family wants to have a time of sharing… this is where I do it – in the context of giving thanks for that persons life and celebrating memories… if no one stands, then I have these ready to go and prepared… if they aren’t doing sharing, we go through these anyways as a part of the litany/prayer)

We give you thanks and remember her faithfulness as a wife to [Name] for over 30 years. 

We give you thanks and celebrate her love of her children, [Name], [Name] and [Name]and her grandchildren and grandchildren.

We give you thanks for the way she created her own family in the staff and residents at ____. 

And we give you thanks for the work of her hands – her vocation as a homemaker and her love of crafts.

And now that [Name]’s  race is complete and her struggle is over, we commend your servant [Name] into your loving arms, O merciful God.  Receive her into the blessed rest of everlasting peace and into the glorious company of your saints.  Fill us with your peace and abiding comfort, and keep us true in the love with which we hold one another.  Above all else we thank you for Jesus, who died our death and rose for our sake, and who lives and prays for us.  And as he taught us, so now we pray.

The Lord’s Prayer

Benediction

Song (especially if they want three – here is a good place to add the last one)

 

Graveside Only Service

(entire service is same as memorial service through the message… with the exception of probably NOT having music… this is where the committal becomes a part of the service, instead of separate)

Litany of Thanksgiving & Committal

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for all with which you have blessed us even to this day: for the gift of joy in days of health and strength and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise in the days of pain and grief.  It is right and good in this our time of need to offer thanks for [Name]’s life among us. We take comfort in the memories of her presence and the wonderful ways in which she blessed our lives.

We give you thanks and remember her faithfulness as a wife to [Name]’ for over 30 years. 

We give you thanks and celebrate her love of her children, [Name]s and her grandchildren and grandchildren.

We give you thanks for the way she created her own family in the staff and residents at _____. 

And we give you thanks for the work of her hands – her vocation as a homemaker and her love of crafts.

And now that [Name]’s race is complete and her struggle is over, into your hands we commend your song/daughter _____, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life the Jesus Christ our Lord.

This body we commit to the ground… earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Now as we offer _____ back into your arms, receive him/her into the blessed rest of everlasting peace and into the glorious company of your saints.  Comfort us, O God, in our lonliness, strengthen us in our weakness, and give us the courage to face the future unafraid.  Fill us with your peace and abiding comfort, and keep us true in the love with which we hold one another.  Above all else, we thank you for Jesus, who died our death and rose for our sake, and who lives and prays for us.  And as he taught us, so now we pray…

The Lord’s Prayer

Benediction

 

 

I hope this is helpful for any beginning pastors out there…. or any of us more seasoned pastors who are looking for something to get them out of a rut.

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