Today’s guest post is written by Pastor Dieter Reda:

In another post I praised the majority of funeral directors for their professionalism and competence, and I stand by the statement that this applies to the majority of death care professionals.  Today I’d like to discuss the small minority that sometimes ruin the reputation of everyone, and these individuals can be found both among funeral directors and clergy.  Since they both work closely together, they also can easily observe one another’s gaffes, and yes everyone makes them.

One particular funeral director that I don’t have fond memories about is one from my days as a rookie minister.  I was in my first church in Toronto, just getting used to doing funerals when this little story happened.  A prominent member of the church had died. The arrangements were for the service in the church.  But suddenly the family changed its mind and wanted the service in the funeral chapel.  This after the obituary had already appeared in the newspaper.  I later found out that the funeral director, behind my back, had talked the family into changing the plans because he wanted to accommodate another funeral, and didn’t want his cars away for so long, since our church was quite a distance from his establishment.  However many people didn’t know about the change, so half the congregation, including the choir that was to sing, went to the empty church and the others were at the funeral home for the service, sans choir.

As if that weren’t enough, when we started the procession, the first thing the director said as he jumped  behind the wheel of the lead car was , “would you like a smoke, Reverend?” I politely declined but he lit up anyway.  He turned out to be chain smoker, so he went through a number of cigarettes in our 45 minute ride through the streets of Toronto to the cemetery. This meant that my clothes smelled like a chimney as I stood at the graveside next to the family.

As we rode back, the puffing continued, and the insensitive  professional said that he would be happy to take care of any other families of our church. I was quiet and steaming. Thinking my silence meant that I didn’t understand, he spelled it out: “you know, sometimes when there is a death, the family calls the minister before the funeral home. So we’d be very happy if you could recommend us.”  I answered that I would keep that in mind.  And I did.  In all the years of my ministry, I have never told a family which funeral home to use.  But I did give several the good advice of where not to go.

The second story comes from the 2 years that I worked in a funeral home.  At that particular one, the management and licenced directors were young arrogant know it alls who proudly made pointed to the distinctions between themselves and the un-licensed staff such as myself.  They loved to remind us that we were “unskilled labour” whereas they were “professionals” who had a licence.  One day we had the funeral of a 13 year old boy who had died in a house fire. It was a huge service with standing room only. All of the boys’ classmates were there, and most of them were emotionally upset.  So what did these “professionals” do to help?  Nothing.  They hid in the clergy room with the door closed under the pretense of having to operate the P.A. system and did not come out until the service was over.  It was left to myself and one other of the “unskilled labourers” to  work on crowd control, and comfort the many  classmates who were upset.  At the end of the service they paraded down the aisle of the chapel and barked orders to the pall bearers, and told the family  to “proceed to their cars” etc.  They fought over who got to drive the hearse rather than the family limousine, “I’ve got better things to do than listen to the crying in the back seat.” I had now reached a stage of life where I no longer was afraid to open my mouth, and they got an earful from me about their “professionalism”.

But of course, clergy can also be less than professional.  I recall one minister who, while reading the graveside committal service, had one eye in his book, and the other on a very pretty female funeral director.  When he was finished, he snapped his book shut and said “that’s all folks” before going to his car without even speaking to the family.

At the funeral home where I worked we often had families who didn’t have a minister, but wanted us to find one to conduct a service.  Sometimes they would ask me, but mostly they called “Ten Minute Harry”.  He was especially favoured when the funeral home was busy because from the moment that the casket was wheeled into the chapel, until it was time to take it out again, exactly 10 minutes elapsed.  During those ten minutes he had read the same service from the same manual that he would use for every service.   The staff waiting in the lobby would mouth the words because they had heard it so many times.  Once he even didn’t get the name of the deceased right because he forgot to change the yellow post it note in his book.  For this he collected a fee in the form of a cheque from the funeral home, the amount of which was added to the family’s account. He also insisted that we send a car for him to pick him up and bring him back home afterwards. If his presence was required at the cemetery for a committal service, there was a surcharge.”

But my favourite horror story occurred in the church where I did my internship.  The funeral director had mixed up two caskets, and brought the wrong one to the church.  In that particular congregation the custom was for the closed casket to rest at the front of the sanctuary.  At the end of the service, the lid would be opened, and the congregation would file by one last time, with the family the last ones to view the body before we went to the cemetery.  The service that day was for a sweet old grandmother.  When the lid was lifted the family in the front row saw the body of a man whom they had never met.  Not a good scene. What did they do?  The congregation was seated while they wheeled the casket  out and took it back to the funeral home and brought the correct one back.  Fortunately the other one of the two identical looking caskets had not yet been buried or cremated.

Some of these stories might be funny if they were not true.  But each of them is, and it wasn’t funny for the people involved.  Yes, we are all human, and we all make mistakes, even ministers and funeral directors.  But some things just shouldn’t happen


Dieter Reda has been an ordained Minister for the past 34 years and served various churches in central and western Canada. Since 2003 he is senior pastor at Mission Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). His blog of pastoral musings on various issues is at and you can follow him on Twitter @Dieterreda


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