Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Okay ... I'm calmed down enough to post this. Yesterday, however, was a different story. Mrs. Ref got the brunt of it, and a couple of friends also listened to me.

So, here's the deal. The town character died last week. He had Downs Syndrome. He lived with a family here in what can best be described as an adult foster care system. He would wander around town playing rock-paper-scissors with willing participants, or playing the con man, sometimes chatting with you, sometimes not.

I don't know all of the technical/medical stuff about how he died, but it had something to do with a really bad sinus infection.

His funeral was yesterday. I was mildly annoyed that it started late; but hey, things happen. As a matter of fact, I did a funeral just last week in which the deceased was late for her own funeral. So I can deal with late, things happen.

But then the service started. There was an opening song, a few prayers, and a video that a relative put together for us to watch. And then, dear readers, came the words that I will never utter at a funeral . . .

Does anyone have anything they'd like to share with us about Monte?

Yes, my friends, it was time for the eulogies to commence. FIFTY FIVE MINUTES worth of eulogies. And it wasn't a steady 55 minute stream of eulogies. There were several lulls, at which point the officiant sort of prodded people to come up and speak.

"Is there anybody else who would like to say a few words about Monte?"

I wanted to stand up and say, "No ... we've heard enough."

But I didn't.

And then after the eulogies, the "homily" commenced. This was another 20-25 minute speech that was part homily, part eulogy and part altar call. I could go on (much like the officiant), but I won't. Except to say that three different times he said, "It looks like we're running out of time and I should close, but I just want to say one more thing . . ."

Maybe I'll copy pages 491 - 505 and send them to the Baptist church. You know, just in case.


Anonymous | 11:49 PM, October 17, 2006  

i used to be southern baptist. i once heard a two and a half hour long sermon. about the prodigal son. out of two and a half hours, that's the only thing i remembered.

one time i heard a hour and 15 minute long sermon about why we don't use printed prayers or liturgy. the irony was striking then too.

Young fogey emeritus | 11:47 AM, October 18, 2006  

Dear Father,

Good call, Ref!

One of my rants is that modern church funerals have become de facto canonisations thanks in part to some places allowing eulogies at them. Though this soul probably is in heaven the point remains.

The place for that (and there is a place for it) is, in some Roman Catholic cultures, at the wake, or at a reception afterwards.

If this was in a church that doesn't pray for the dead, I'm still with you on this one - a good sermon and no open-mic, please.

Fidelium animæ per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen.

Anonymous | 1:44 PM, October 18, 2006  

I hate that, too. No control and, in fact, when the crowd seems to be limiting itself the officiant prods them into losing control and getting up to say things they really didn't have to say. As though somehow if one more person didn't get up to the mic, Monte's life was somehow inadequate.

I have, once, allowed someone to speak during a funeral. It was scripted, and I had a chance to review it before the service. It fit really well, because I didn't know the deceased in the least, so the sermon was a short bit and very theological, followed by a very short personal bit from the family. It worked well.

But I still reserve the right to say, "Please do that at the funeral home, before the service in the church."

We had one funeral where the family and the deceased were both late. Apparently it was family tradition that the ENTIRE family escorts the coffin from the funeral home all the way to the front of the church. ALL OF THEM. IN PROCESSION. They got to the church late (traffic, organizing six cars, ...) then milled around for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to all process up the aisle.


Reverend Ref + | 7:44 PM, October 18, 2006  

YF: Yes, there is a place for it. Either before the funeral proper or at the wake/reception.

I've done several funerals around here, and at a couple of them there have been ... rumblings about having people speak. When I hear that, I make sure to announce before the service starts that "there will be time to share stories and memories of N. at the reception; so please feel free to do that then."

And, yes, Mark, I have allowed a scripted "homily" to be read by a family member; after I've looked it over, of course. And it did work well, especially since the only thing I knew about the deceased was that she died last week.

The only redeeming feature to this whole event was that it was closed casket.

Tripp Hudgins | 7:55 AM, October 19, 2006  

Huh...I cannot believe what am about to say...

Lighten up. It is not your funeral. It does not belong to you. It belongs to the family and friends.

The real concerns about manipulation or coercing people into speaking should be addressed. But no service has a time limit, not really. No sermon has a time limit, not really.

We can suggest, imply, and pray fervently that we not have to listen to a 55 minute series on the life and times of brother Bob. But in the end, the service does not belong to the presider...it belongs to those who gather and to God.

That's all.

Ryan | 4:46 PM, October 19, 2006  

I hear both what the Ref and what Tripp are saying. I've only been to one funeral that was like this - that of one of my best friends in high school who was killed in a car accident. The service was 3 hrs long, primarily due to the open mic eulogy policy. Now, for the most part, I'd agree with Tripp and say that the service belongs to those who need it. But, I also have to agree with the Ref, because there were some people who stood up to speak at my friend's funeral who really had no right to do so, nor did they have the right to say what they said. Those of us who actually knew him best, with a few exceptions at the family's request, remained seated and quiet. So, the comparison was stark between the folks who stood up to speak about how my friend was "so important in their life" and those who were invited to the friends and family only graveside internment. I know that sounds whiny, but 5 years after the fact, it still upsets me. So, if people want to eulogize - do it at the wake.


David | 8:12 PM, October 19, 2006  

OK, I know I am in the minority here, but I am an Episcopal Priest that is ok with eulogies. As Tripp says, it's really not about me, it's about the family and friends. Often they will know the person far better than I. Sure you can say save these things for the wake or reception, but I disagree. Many more people will be at the service and it is much easier to let them be heard then. My approach when this is an option is to talk about keeping things short, and no, I don't do an open mike - it has to be clear to me before hand that someone wants to speak. So far (and I've done about 40 funerals in my short ordained life)I have had a personal eulogy offered at 3 or 4, and it worked very well.
Here's a better example. A couple of weeks ago I did a funeral of someone who had no living family, but TONS of friends. She died out of town (she was moved post-Katrina and never returned), but her friends turned out for the service. 90% of them were people who hadn't darkened a church door in ages, if ever. Yet we did the full meal deal Episcopal service with communion - and EVERYONE received (another story - ask me about shredded wheat communion some time). I had talked to enough friends and they selected one to give a brief eulogy, and she did well. Another person spoke about a child abuse shelter the deceased had started and the impact it had on the community. I preached. Just before the service ended, a young man came up and asked to speak, he was a "graduate" of the shelter. I allowed it, and he went a little overboard, but it was so important to show the impact this woman had on the community.
Since the service, I have heard from several people that it was one of the most memorable memorials that had ever been to, and a couple of them have even shown up at my church!
Our funeral liturgy ROCKS - it's the best there is in my book. But adding a personal touch, if done right, can make the service even better. Of course, the open mike approach, and the coersion to participate, are not cool. But there are ways to address that and still allow the dead to be honored and resurrection celebrated.

EYouthWNY | 10:11 AM, October 20, 2006  

I'm afraid I have to side with the pro-talks side of the issue.

First let's be fair. If I read the story right this was at a Baptist church. The tradition there can be very heavy on personal story(testimony) and long sermons so it can fit very nicely into their tradition.

My mom died just about a year ago and we've had two memorial services (in two communities where she had deep roots). At both we invited folks to say a few words. There are two reasons for that. One it comforted the folks telling the stories and two it comforted my extended family. We heard from folks who loved mom why they had loved her. In that we shared our grief at losing her. What better place that in a place of faith to do that? Or is church really just about the liturgy?

There are certainly things that would make me uncomfortable about what was described. At both of our services when the first lull ran into a minute or so the clergy moved us on. There were lots more stories told at the reception. But I'm surprised that you (Rev Ref) let this become such an issue for you. Different strokes for different folks, you know?


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