Monday, September 28, 2009

02:10

Haven't I been here before?

When the phone rings when it's not supposed to, it's generally not happy news. Two weeks ago I got the call that a parishioner's father died. He was 89.

Today I got a call that the daughter of a fellow firefighter had died. She was 2 months, if that.

The hardest part, for me, isn't the death. It isn't seeing a beloved father laying unresponsive in a hospital bed. It isn't even seeing a lifeless infant in the ER surrounded by things made for much older people.

The hardest part is dealing with a family who has no relationship with God or the Church but who know that calling the priest is the "right thing to do."

Haven't I been here before?

Yes, and I will be again. Because that's what we do.

7 comments:

Cheesehead | 12:28 PM, September 28, 2009  

Yes we will, because yes, we do.

Currently Infidel | 2:59 PM, September 28, 2009  

Some years ago the Rector was out of state on vacation, and a call came to the church office which was referred to me in my role as Senior Warden. A person whose family had formerly been members of the parish had died. No member of the family had entered the parish church since the Nixon Administration, for any reason, not even Easter/Christmas. Needless to say, neither had there been any other contact, and certainly no pledge. Yet the family expected me to organize a supply priest and a choral 1928 Prayerbook Funeral Service on a weekday. [We no longer have the 1928 prayerbooks, and I could not imagine asking the choir to give up a 1/2 day at work to sing for a stranger]. At one point I asked the son, "You're telling me none of you have been to any church for 30 years. What does it mean to you to have an Episcopalian funeral? Why do you want this?" He spluttered in anger and hung up the phone on me. I still think it's a good question. And I'm glad (as are others) that I'm not the one getting calls like this ....

Reverend Ref + | 4:07 PM, September 28, 2009  

C.I.

That's a GREAT question. It takes courage to ask why people want to be part of something that they otherwise take for granted. I hope your rector backed you up on this.

As an update, I will be meeting with the family and funeral director here in a couple of hours. At least when I'm doing that I feel like I'm actually doing my job rather than sputtering cheesy Hallmark platitudes.

Malcolm+ | 4:40 PM, September 28, 2009  

I think it is a fair question - but I'm not certain that on the phone with the son just after father died is the best time to be asking it. Of course, I concede there may not be another time to ask.

The fact that the family asks for the presence of a priest indicates that there is at least residual religious longing. That is the door for ministry, both pastoral and evangelical.

Anonymous | 5:54 PM, September 28, 2009  

I think it's wonderful that you ARE there for people when they need you most (however, I don't know about the propriety of asking for a full on choir performance). People are often lost and disoriented at such a time and a loving presence is most comforting.

annie c in Ukiah, CA.

Reverend Ref + | 7:39 PM, September 28, 2009  

Malcolm+

I can certainly see your point. However, I can't fault the Infidel (great name, btw) for doing what he did. He was the senior warden on duty when the rector was out of town. You could ask why the rector didn't have a colleague covering for him, but that may not have been possible.

All that aside, being faced with a non-attending family who suddenly wants (expects) the church to do their bidding in organizing a 1928 Choral funeral service because they used to be members would certainly have me asking, "Why do you want this done?"

Could it be they were used to getting their own way? Could it be that they knew the priest was out of town so thought they could get their bidding done? Who knows.

Yes, funerals are a door for ministry and evangelism. But were I rector, I would have certainly said, "I'm sorry, we don't use the 1928 BCP; and for a service the size you're expecting, maybe a different day/time when our volunteers could accommodate you would work better." Which, I think, might have the same effect as, "Why do you want this?"

Currently Infidel | 9:11 AM, September 29, 2009  

A Couple Details:

1. Technically, it was the elderly mother (the son was in his mid-50's, and as I learned did not even have a church wedding in his 20's).
2. The death occurred in August, which is Universal Clergy Vacation Month in my diocese; sort of like Europe, where everything shuts down. I had located a retired priest who was willing to do a 1979 BCP service and even a Eucharist if they wanted it, but drew the line at 1928. Also, as I noted, we had disposed of the 1928 prayerbooks years ago.
3. Though generally lacking in tact, I certainly did not ask the question during our first conversation. There were a series of conversations over a couple days, during which the demands (I do mean "demands") escalated (I left off that they wanted to know whether they could propose menus for the after-funeral luncheon they expected the parish to provide, though it is possible they may have been willing to make a contribution to subsidize that cost, we didn't get that far in the conversation).

But even if they were more convivial, if someone has no contact with religion for 30 years, why do they want a church funeral? Just because "we've always done it that way?"

I am familiar with clergy who will not perform weddings for people who do not attend, though of course a death is a different matter.

I also was acquaintance with a Priest (now deceased), who got into trouble with his Bishop when a family arrived in his office demanding baptism for their grandchild: even though grandparents had not attended since the kid's wedding, and the kids had similarly been absent. He wanted to know if the parents would take seriously the promise "for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?" The Bishop, I'm happy to say, supported him.

In our consumer society, many people seem to believe Church is like a supermarket for sacraments rather than a community of faith ....

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