Unauthorized Funeral GuidelinesPosted: June 16, 2012
Here at St. John’s in Hingham, we’ve been awash in funerals the last couple of months — ten since the week after Easter. Officiating at funerals is actually one of the things I love most about being a priest. They’re emotionally draining but there are few situations where you can so profoundly touch a family and preach Resurrection than in the midst of grief.
Occasionally the mixture of grief, guilt, and family tension coalesces into bizarre scenarios. A few years ago I was accused by a family member during the funeral planning process of “making it all about you.” This was because I insisted on using the burial rite from the Book of Common Prayer (well, duh, we are an Episcopal Church) and not allowing a John Denver song to be played in the middle of the liturgy. If this made it “all about me” then so be it.
While we do have a fairly comprehensive list of funeral guidelines, expectations, and explanations on our web page, I thought I’d offer a few of my own based on many years of doing funerals. If you’re the webmaster for your parish website, I suggest you replace your own guidelines with these. Just don’t tell the rector.
Father Tim’s Unauthorized Funeral Guidelines
1. Eulogies will be no more than five minutes in duration. If someone goes over the allotted time, the verger (after a single warning) will drag the eulogizer away from the lectern and shove him/her down the chancel steps. Don’t worry, our ushers are trained to help people up and escort them to the parking lot. Also, kindly save stories of drunken carousing for the reception.
2. Unless the funeral is for Billy Graham himself, “How Great Thou Art” will not be sung.
4. No, I don’t happen to have the name and contact information for the local bag piper.
5. Psalm 23 is to funerals what 1 Corinthians 13 is to weddings: beautiful but overdone.
6. Note to Roman Catholics: Please don’t stop saying the Lord’s Prayer mid-stream by omitting the doxology at the end. Oh, and it’s okay to pick up a hymnal and at least pretend to sing. Remember, when in Rome…
7. “Amazing Grace.”Really? You couldn’t think of anything more original? Like John Denver or something?
8. If your cell phone goes off during the commendation with the marimba ring tone, know that you’re off the family’s Christmas Card list for the rest of eternity.
10. Similarly, while you might enjoy having a giant photograph of the deceased in your living room, it’s not going in front of the lectern. We like people to be able to see the readers rather than have voices emanate from behind a picture of Aunt Edna.
11. Two words: closed casket.
12. No, we won’t be using purple hangings because “it was dad’s favorite color.”
13. Toddlers make bad pall bearers. Seriously.
14. Yes, I realize the former rector baptized, confirmed, and married you but he won’t be doing the funeral just because he was the priest when you last attended church. 18 years ago.
16. If your sister is prone to deep wailing at the drop of a hat, please don’t ask her to read the lesson from Romans 8.
17. Just because your grandfather liked to go to Cancun every winter, the organist won’t be playing the Mexican Hat Dance as the postlude.
18. While it may mean a lot to you, the “rose ceremony” that takes place at the graveside is too similar to the “rose ceremony” that takes place in “The Bachelor.” It’s always discouraged.
19. If you want to bury some of your uncle’s ashes at the church but take the rest and scatter some at every minor league baseball stadium in the midwest, please don’t share this with the clergy.
20. It’s okay to list the church as the recipient of memorial donations. The humane society has plenty. As does the historical society.
So there you go. If I haven’t offended you in some way I probably haven’t done my job. But then I’m off to write another funeral homily.