IVP - Online Pulpit - Preaching the Funeral Service - Getting Started

March 1, 2008

Preaching the Funeral Service - Getting Started

I was reminded this week as I prepared to preach the funeral for one of our older church members just how unsettling the whole funeral process can be for many ministers, especially those younger and less experienced in ministry. This column is the first of several in which I want to describe how I go about preparing for and officiating funeral services. Every weathered minister has found certain practices that have worked for them along the way. What I am about to say is much more descriptive than prescriptive. My hope is that my experience will aid you as you prepare your next funeral service.

Like many pastors, I know some of my congregants well, others in passing and still others hardly at all. Yet when I receive a call that someone has died and I’ve been asked to officiate the funeral, I don’t have the luxury to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know her. You’ll have to find someone else.” When I receive the call, I evaluate my level of knowledge of the deceased and plan accordingly. If I know the person well, the task of preparation is somewhat easier. If I don’t know the person well, I take the following steps to help me know and understand who he or she is so that I can more effectively minister to the family.

I call an appropriate family member to express my immediate condolences and to set a time when I can meet with the family to discuss funeral arrangements. I know this can be a busy and disconcerting time for the family, so I attempt to be most flexible.

An important aside here: Some funeral homes—not all but some—presume that ministers are at their beck and call. They will set the funeral service time and then inform the minister of the time with no consideration to the minister’s schedule. When I came to my current place of ministry, I visited with the funeral directors to introduce myself and to get to know how funerals were conducted in this particular area. (Yes, funeral practices change as geography changes.) I also asked them to please not set funeral times in which I would officiate until contacting my office to assure my availability. Who knows, I might have another funeral at that time.

Sometimes, families are so busy that setting a time for a face to face meeting, which I prefer, is next to impossible. I then opt to talk with the family over the phone, which typically proves just as informative, just not as personal and pastoral. I try to personalize the funeral message so that it does not come across as generic funeral number six. (In a subsequent article I will share my theology and purpose of the funeral sermon.) I want to be able to speak personally of the decedent. If I know the person well, I will try to remember key personal and meaningful memories and encounters. If I don’t know the person well or not at all, I try to get a feel for them through the personal encounters and memories of loved ones. The death of a loved one is a sensitive time in life and needs the tender and perceptive touch of a caring minister. In my conversation with loved ones, I try to do much more listening than I do talking.

This first step of gathering information makes possible the next step of preparing the funeral sermon. To that end I will dedicate a future article.

Posted by Craig Loscalzo at March 1, 2008 10:37 AM Bookmark and Share

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