MINISTERIAL TRAINING CENTER - TRAINING DISCOURSES
For most of us, as we go through the daily minutiae of our lives, death is an abstraction. So, when it happens around us, we are caught off-guard, unprepared. As a minister, you can't let that happen.
What would you do if a friend or loved one dies and you are asked to do the service? Would you turn down that honor, simply because you are fearful about having never done one and don't know what to say? You are expected to know these things.
TAKING THE MYSTERY OUT OF FUNERALS (An excerpt from Weddings, Funerals and Rites)
Several years ago, I recognized this and began learning about funeral and memorial services. I contacted funeral homes and discovered, among other things, that there is a definite need for ministers to perform non-denominational services. I decided I wanted to conduct memorial services as an addition to my wedding business, so I began creating a healing service for the occasion.
The hardest parts for me were combating the potential fear of how I would feel about being around a dead body and trying to figure out what I was going to say. Until the time of my first memorial, I'd never even attended a service, let alone seen a dead body. I'd like to start by saying that a dead body looks a lot like a wax dummy. Not scary at all. It quickly becomes apparent that the spirit has departed and what remains is merely an empty vessel.
As for the words to say, I quickly discovered that there is very little material written about funerals and virtually nothing available for ministers who want to perform them. I did find one service from a traditional religion and one from another non-denominational religion. Neither was quite the truth I wanted to share, but it gave me a place to start.
I begin my services with an opening and a welcome. I thank people for coming and begin to talk about why we are there, to celebrate the life of someone they have loved. I invite people to say hello in spirit to the deceased, while I lead everyone in a prayer. I talk a bit about life and death and what we have learned from the deceased before I move into the eulogy. (I created a standard opening for the eulogy, then I fill it in with information and stories I gather from the bereaved before the service.) I move on to talk about the value of telling stories and remembrances about the deceased and invite people to say a few words. It is not unusual to have nobody speak at the service, but sometimes people will come up if it's left open to them.
At this point, there is some additional flexibility. I enjoy singing 'Amazing Grace' at funerals. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but there still can be room for a musical introduction. Just be sure the funeral director knows if a tape or CD needs to be played. A candle-lighting ceremony, some scripture, or some selected poems can be put next. The closing is a prayer and a benediction.
If the body is going to be interred (buried), then I go to the graveside (unless I'm already there) and say some words of scripture, the Lord's Prayer and the words for the interment (giving the body back to the ground, etc.). I don't necessarily do it in that order; it just depends on what feels right at the time. It's good to be prepared.
I have found that memorial services are a tremendous place to teach, learn and to heal. One important thing to remember when you are conducting the service is that it is important for you to rein in your own feelings. There will be a lot of people around you in pain and grief. It's not your job to match them. It is your job to distance yourself somewhat and be compassionate, yet strong, so that the bereaved can lean on you and feel free to express their own grief.
During the Time of Grief
During times of grief, you, the minister, become central in bringing comfort and hope to the bereaved. ULC ministers are not likely to preside over funerals held in churches because the local pastor would be involved and certainly hold the service. The services explained here are for funeral chapel and graveside ceremonies.
It's important during this time, to set people's minds at rest. They may be experiencing grief, uncertainty about the fate of their loved one after death, anger, fear, etc. It's up to you to recognize those emotions and do your best to put them at ease.
Many ULC ministers are called upon to perform the ceremony in the funeral chapel only. Some are called upon for a graveside ceremony only. Not all funerals are religious in nature and the minister should be prepared to offer a civil ceremony without references to God or any particular belief system. The family knows what their beliefs are and those of the deceased and those must be honored.
It is common in these days for the minister to include some biographical content into testimonials section or the eulogy, which reminds individuals that the departed on was a member of a family or group and was at the same time an individual. You can get this information when you make your call to the bereaved before the funeral service.
There is no absolute format to conduct a funeral. I am going to presume that the minister is not well acquainted with the family and has been asked to preside over the funeral service in a funeral chapel. There may also requests for graveside interment, services (committal ceremonies). These are usually much shorter.
The Funeral Service:
If you have been asked to do a funeral service and are in need of some non-denominational healing words to share, please go the shopping cart and look under 'general ministry needs'. We offer there a complete selection of funeral ceremonies that can be emailed to you right away.