Hatched, matched and dispatched

According to traditional (chauvinistic) etiquette, a lady only wishes to appear in the news on three occasions in her life – birth, marriage and death. These three events are still the times when most of us are most likely to be in the local paper – and also the times when we have special services at church. Services that are at least partly about us as individuals.

Baptisms, weddings and funerals are all unusual events in the life of the church. They are services when outsiders are expected to come, and they focus quite rightly on one person or couple or family, while still in the context of worshipping God. All such occasions tend to lead to a social event with food and drink, and often involve dressing up. Many a christening robe has been a thing of beauty, and the baptism party is always the smartest in church.

Weddings and funerals of course can be secular as well as religious. You don’t have to believe in God to want to publicly commemorate taking vows of love, or say farewell to a friend or relative. Bizarrely, sometimes non-Christian people want their babies to be baptised. (To please the grandparents? Surely this is the only even semi-respectable reason for taking solemn vows you don’t believe in and don’t intend to keep?)

Baptisms have to follow strict rules, which are occasionally revisited by the central body of the church. Given the spiritual and Biblical significance of baptism, this is understandable.

Weddings can be more individualised, presumably because they are not usually part of the regular Sunday worship, but still have to follow rules, because they represent a legal change of status.

And if you’re not a church-goer, you might feel a bit shy asking the vicar to ditch even the parts that aren’t legally necessary. For example, surely we don’t actually have to have hymns at weddings? But we always do. Much of the individualisation is left for the reception.

Funerals, on the other hand, are different. I looked up Anglican liturgy, very briefly, and found that although there is a given pattern (“outline”) for a funeral service, it is almost all very permissive (“prayers may be said” etc). The celebrant does however have to use “authorised words” for two things: to commend the person to God, and to commit the body to its resting place.

In my largely urban British experience, few churches nowadays bury all parishioners in their own churchyard outside their own door. This means that funerals tend to come in two parts (three if you include the bunfight.)

There is a church service, followed by a journey to a crematorium or cemetery; or there is a cremation/interment followed by a service celebrating the life of the deceased. Only one of these contains the “authorised words”. Not everyone may go to both, or indeed be invited to go to both.

This means funerals are split, which doubtless enables and promotes the concept of the funeral service as “celebration of the life.”

These celebrations are often very moving, as two I’ve recently been to have been. They may have been planned beforehand by the dead person.

But sometimes I wonder what they’re for, and what they mean.

Should a service just be about a person, even a Christian person? How much does the service matter in terms of the grieving process? Can I really have what I want at my funeral, and what is that?

What do you want?

To be continued.

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Malachi Malagowther

    7th July 2017 at 5:28 pm Reply

    Some sort of funeral event is very important in helping friends and relatives come to terms with someone’s death. One time where you see this in the services traditionally organised by Anatomy departments in Medical Schools in acts of gratitude to people who have bequeathed their bodies to further medical science and help with training of medical students. The same is true of military memorial services for personnel killed in the service of their country. In both cases there may not be very much of the body left and what there is probably is not in a fit state for allowing loved ones to view it. In both cases it is very important for relatives that the contribution of the person should be publically acknowledged and their death confirmed. This helps relatives with the grieving process but is also a public declaration of the importance of human life as something that we should all value. For religious people who believe in an afterlife it should be a time of looking forward with anticipation but there is also sadness and loss to some degree and that needs to be acknowledged.

  • Judith Leader

    7th July 2017 at 6:55 pm Reply

    A person taking a funeral service who doesn’t know the person and speaks as though he/she does always seems false.
    My best experiences of funerals were both at two very dear married couple who died within the year. It was a Quaker funeral and the there were moving an authentic tributes to them. The other one was my uncle who did not go to church and my cousin organised it. There family spoke about him honestly and the most moving tribute was by his granddaughter who he and my aunt had help bring up. They were all authentic. The same week as my uncle’s funeral, I went to the funeral of another dear friend who had been a committed Christian and a active member of the church. I will only say that my friend would not have minded it as it was nothing to do with him but rather the ego of the Pastor.
    As many clergy pick and choose what they believe I have no problem about people using the church, we have brought it upon ourselves.
    Do you think we should turn anyone who comes away?

  • Clint Redwood

    7th July 2017 at 7:06 pm Reply

    Steven Covey suggested that one should write ones own perfect obituary, in order that you clarify in life what you would want to be remembered for.

    Only then will you know what your priorities really are, so that you can make that obituary a justifiable reality.

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