A dead loss

It’s an old joke that the public ministry of funerals is a dead loss. All would agree that the ministry of the gospel in the funeral of a congregation member is one of the most meaningful and valuable parts of church life. But the public funeral ministry of total strangers-is it worth doing?

Naturally, any opportunity to preach the gospel is worth doing. You can say things at funerals that are much harder to get across at weddings or baptisms.

Yet, how often have you met someone converted through a funeral? If it is such a great opportunity for gospel preaching, why do we see so little fruit?

Of course, the only person at a funeral who always comes from the parish (other than the clergyman) is the deceased. The relatives and friends frequently come from outside the parish-at least those who would be listening to the sermon. The immediate family may live locally, but they are frequently beyond listening-they feel the warmth of Christian compassion and concern, but that’s about all. The gospel seeds that are planted in funeral services are rarely watered.

The average church with only one staff worker cannot afford to lose half a working day each week conducting funeral services for people who have nothing to do with church and aren’t interested in the gospel. And yet, to lose contact with the community around us would be a great mistake. How can we refuse to conduct a funeral service for somebody! It would be easier to preach against motherhood and apple pie.

But all is not lost. The funeral directors can come to our rescue. Their livelihood depends on conducting high quality funeral services. Tact and diplomacy are their middle names.

Were we ever to give up doing funerals for the general public, the smart funeral director would make a killing. Realising that the average Australian cares very little for denominational affiliation and church practice, he would set up a non-denominational chapel, running tasteful funeral services with just a dash of old-fashioned religion. His staff worker would say exactly the right things to make sure that the people were comforted (and paid handsomely). Never again would he have to worry about a clergyman going on too long or speaking about unmentionable things (like God’s wrath).

Rather than waiting for the funeral directors to start trying their non-denominational religious smulch, why not licence them to conduct our services? The belief of the clergyman isn’t necessary for a genuine Christian service-that he speaks the truth is what counts. Services could be written for the funeral directors and homilies provided so that Christian truth could be brought into the situation. They could be dressed up in the right denominational robes-they love dressing up-and act as genuine representatives of our denomination. It may even be possible to have a little training course for them so that they can become duly qualified.

Such a move would free our ministers from a burdensome and consuming task, while maintaining positive and worthwhile public relations with a large section of the community. Any church member or genuine contact, we would of course minister to by the congregational resources.

Why not licence the funeral directors to do the rest and let the clergy rest in peace?

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