An important component of funeral planning that used to be of little concern in America is the selection of funeral clergy. After all, it wasn’t too many years ago when it was common for families to worship together each Sunday and their minister was accepted as their spiritual leader. When the need arose for funeral clergy by the family, it was routine for the family minister to officiate. He knew the family, their loves and beliefs and was well suited for the task of presenting the story of the decedent. And this wasn’t limited to the Christian community; members of most other religious families did the same.
I remember vividly when my father died. Our family attended church as a unit every week and our minister knew each member of the family well. It was just automatic that he would be the one to deliver the Word, speak knowingly about my father and offer prayers for his soul and for those of us left behind. He was already in the living room of our home before I even arrived from school.
With the family being comforted and spiritually cared for, it made it much easier for my mother to spend some time handling the pressing matters of the funeral and family affairs. These included such items as appointing an obituary writer, approving a kind neighbor’s offer to prepare funeral meals, meeting with the family accountant to insure that funeral costs would be covered, and beginning to deal with her own grief and depression.
Sadly, things are much different today. While about eighty-five percent of Americans claim to be Christian, a surprising study by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association identified a huge gap between those claiming Christianity and those who actually consider themselves saved. Only forty out of every one hundred placed themselves in that category and this likely correlates to some significant degree to regular church attendance. The saved Christian is one who religiously tends to his or her church attendance, prayer, meditation, Bible reading and outreach. This would apply generally to the devoutly religious in other major religions as well. Those less active are much more likely not to have a designated religious leader to officiate.
So what does this mean for the family without a close tie to a “person of the cloth”? Basically, unless the decedent makes plans prior to death, the family is left with the task of determining who will officiate at the funeral and what will they be asked to say. Sometimes it can be difficult to find an ordained pastor to handle the service for a stranger. Often ministers are reluctant to officiate for people they don’t know. The spiritual background of the decedent is important to most clergy, and the lack of knowledge of the beliefs that were held might make them feel their involvement would not be appropriate. On the other hand, some will meet with family members and agree based upon what they learn from that meeting.
Another option would be asking a close friend of the deceased to lead the occasion or, in some cases, even a family member might agree to do so. I once attended a ceremony where the son-in-law officiated under a large fruit tree in a family pasture that the decedent dearly loved. She spoke often of her love for God but had a “falling out” with a particular church earlier in life and never returned.
In some communities there are even listings for professional public speakers who can lead a ceremonial event such as a memorial service for the deceased. While they may be appropriate for those not professing or practicing any religious belief, I cannot personally vouch for any of their services.
I think it is pretty clear where I am headed with this. The easiest way for us to find the funeral clergy we need is to develop our basic belief in God into a stronger, closer and more loving relationship by clearly fully and opening our hearts to Him. Let Him infect our lives while we are here on this earth so that we receive His love and guidance and thereby find ourselves in Him. Sometimes something has drawn us away or we are just stubborn and think we are capable of handling all things by ourselves. But when it comes to the subject of “facing the music’ at the end of life, wouldn’t it be better to be at peace with God and show this in our lives with our family and friends. Regular involvement in a Christian fellowship or church, daily prayer and Bible study will loosen our chains of stubbornness and show us the way to Him. And by doing this, we will also solve the issue of funeral clergy for we will have someone who knows us and can present our life in celebration of our finale when our time on earth is done.
If you are active in your belief through thought, word and action, God bless you. And if you aren’t, but sincerely want to be, God will show you how. Let Him unchain your heart and change your life. You will be rewarded for eternity. God bless you and God bless America.