Funerals As Counter Culture
Are we rapidly moving toward a “Post-Funeral”culture?
I don’t think so.
After 50 years of steady decline in public attitudes towards funerals the pendulum is swinging back our way. Like Croci in the spring, the signs are poking through the frost if you will just look and this week’s post is one excellent example.
30 years ago a handful of brave pastors ignored the then-prevailing cultural surface signals and the revival we have come to know as the “mega-church” movement began. The common belief at the time was that people just weren’t religious any more. The actual reality was that many people had a deep need to grow in their faith, they just weren’t getting that need met by the traditional church. Those churches that reinvented their form to meet the need for a deeper relationship with god experienced both dramatic growth and equally dramatic cultural impact. If you are close to that movement you know that the founders changed the form while making the substance even stronger. They demanded things of their constituents who willingly responded that no mainline denomination pastor would dare ask.
I believe we have that same opportunity now as the anti funeral movement begins to lose its voice.
My friend Grant Mckenzie of Sarnia, Ontario shared an amazing article with me last week that illustrates my point well.
In response to the decision of a beloved elder to forgo a funeral, Pastor Edwin Searcy of University Hill United Church of Canada decided to conduct a study group on death in his church in Vancouver, BC. The results will surprise you. With his permission it is reproduced in PDF format in its entirety at the bottom of this page.
As a Christian Believer I found this a profoundly insightful article and a personal challenge to examine my own response to funerals in my church. It both strengthens my faith and challenges me to support my fellow believers in their time of need. Even if when I don’t know them or their family personally. Here are some excerpts from Rev. Searcy’s experience with his study group I think you will find interesting:
“They spoke of how empty it feels when there is no opportunity to gather to grieve…”
“Speaking about death in this way was a new experience in the congregation.”
“What really captured the interest of the gathered group were questions of how we as a congregation will deal with death when it occurs. It was as if we recognized intuitively that in the marking of death we are confronted with powers that seek to erase the church’s memory and entice it to abandon its daring witness.”
“If it is no great loss when someone dies, if it is possible to die and make no noticeable impact on the fabric of the church and the community, then the claims made at baptism are false. It is critical to the church that every death of one of its number be grieved.”
“A voice in the group questioned the way in which we decide whose funeral to attend…Death is not a private matter that affects only those who are friends and family. It is a public event that affects the whole church and calls the whole congregation together to grieve and to witness to the good news of god in the face of death.”
“Caring for the dying and for the dead is a practice that disciplines the church to wash the feet of the poorest of the poor.”
“Our elders need to unlearn their fear of becoming a burden, so that the whole congregation has the opportunity to respond to the call to serve and to carry our cross.”
“We noticed that by ignoring and silencing conversations about death we had unwittingly simply absorbed the assumptions of the culture we inhabit.”
“Our study group discovered we have simply adopted the ways in which our culture figures death out.”
There is a nascent global movement afoot to “bring death out of the closet”. As the last taboo subject “Boomers” the world over are determined to make death a healthy topic of conversation. Rev. Searcy’s study group is an excellent example of this movement.
So, here is what I would do:
- I would print out copies of Rev. Searcy’s article and give copies to each staff member and leave copies in my lobby for the public.
- I would make an appointment with every Christian clergy in town and share this article with them and offer to facilitate a discussion group with their church. (You can see a copy of the outline for the first session by clicking here)
- I would stop looking down on those funeral practitioners that view their job as a form of ministry because it appears that it really is.
I believe the public wants to talk. They will find an outlet. If not you then who?
Click the red lettering below to download the PDF file of Dr. Searcy’s comments.
In addition to the weekly Creedy Commentary, I frequently contribute to industry trade journals and speak at trade conventions. Among my affiliations outside the DeathCare industry are The Center For Creative Leadership, The Performance Institute and Human Synergistics. I believe in giving back and so was recently honored to serve as Chairman of the Funeral Service Foundation.