This is a somber theme, but one upon which suggestion and counsel have been requested by many. The last solemn service for the dead falls to the lot of every minister. These responsibilities include the conducting of funerals for both believer and unbeliever, for both public and private burials, and duties which devolve upon the clergyman both before and after the service. Front experienced ministers in different sections, who carry various types of responsibility, these suggestions have been gathered for the study and help of all. They are not dogmatic, as denominationally we have no set form or ritual. Rather, they are convictions growing out of personal experience and observation.—Editors.
The Minister's Duty
By W. P. MCLENNAN, Minister, Phoenix, Arizona
When a death has occurred in a minister's congregation, it becomes his immediate duty to call on the bereaved family and offer sympathy and consolation. If he is asked to take charge of the funeral (never should he offer his services), he needs to obtain information concerning the deceased, regarding his character, church relationship (if any), Christian experience, cause of death, etc., so that the prayer and the remarks may be in harmony with the• occasion. He should also ascertain if the family desires singing, and if so, what songs they prefer. My experience has led me, as far as possible, to avoid using singers with whom I am unacquainted. The operatic type of singing, inappropriate at all religious services, is unpardonable at a funeral. Two songs of not more than three stanzas each, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the service, are usually sufficient. Appropriate hymns are listed in "Christ in Song," under "Funeral Hymns." However, my favorite, No. 872, is not listed there.
If the service is to be conducted at the home, the minister should be sure to reach the house a little before the appointed hour, and have time to confer with the undertaker as to the order of the service, so that there will be no misunderstanding. The minister is responsible for the entire religious service. Therefore, every detail should be carefully arranged —the Scripture reading, the prayer, appropriate music, and the obituary, as well as the sermon. The undertaker has charge of all other matters.
The service should be brief and simple. Ordinarily a fifteen or twenty ininute talk is ample. To me it has never seemed appropriate for the minister to eulogize the life of the one taken by death. Caution should be exercised in referring to the life of the deceased, especially in the case of strangers. The minister must not compromise his religious convictions. Therefore, silence upon some matters is golden. If the deceased was not a Christian, great care should be taken not to speak a word that could wound or give offense. Often those who listen have known him longer and more intimately. Reading an obituary is customary in some sections, but not in all.
We should make the message one of comfort for the loved ones and friends of the departed, dwelling upon God's love and the wonderful provision of His grace. Never should we take advantage of a funeral service to preach what we call a doctrinal sermon, nor should we ever speak ' in an argumentative manner.
If the companion of the deceased is a member of another church, and the pastor of that church is present, it is but Christian courtesy to invite him to offer the prayer. At the close of the service, we should announce that the service will be concluded at the cemetery. While the casket is being lowered, the minister may slowly read a short scripture or committal. The floral mat Or cover should then be placed, and the service ended with the benediction prayer. Let us not forget the bereaved family after the funeral. They will need our help and comfort in a special way in this hour of loneliness.
The Funeral Director's Duties
By J. ARTHUR WALTERS, Director of the Takorna Funeral Home, D.C.
The relationships of minister and funeral director are many and varied. Above all else there should be complete cooperation between them. The really perfect funeral service is one of quiet dignity, calm, and deliberation. We prefer this quiet dignity whether in the private home, the funeral home, or in the church. Prevailing quietness is suggestive of impressive dignity. The commotion sometimes seen and heard suggests a lack of proper reverence and decorum. This quietness should prevail in all that is done by the funeral director, from his first call in the home to the end of the committal service. A quiet, calm, reassuring voice over the phone helps to soothe the wrought-up nerves of those who are under great mental strain, and to instill confidence in members of the bereaved family.
In our experience and associations with the ministry we find many differences of opinion and methods of conducting their services. Some ministers have the idea that they are to direct the funeral, or at least they try to do so, making various suggestions to the director which are very impractical, and almost impossible to carry out without causing confusion and embarrassment. I am very sorry to say that I find this condition occurring in Seventh-day Adventist churches more than in those of other denominations.
The Home Funeral.—In the home funeral service we frequently experience difficulty in arranging the details of the service. We usually find that the home is too small to accommodate the friends who would like to attend. The chairs must be placed very close together. There is very poor ventilation in most homes for any sizable group, especially in summer weather ; and the family or families must stay upstairs in order for the friends to have sufficient room. Thus they lose something from, the service. The best way at all times to conduct the funeral service, especially in the home, is to call the car list after the minister has finished his service, the family going out first. They will then have their final memory of the open casket in its setting of beautifully arranged flowers, as they do not see the flowers taken down from the racks, the casket closed and carried out, or any other details which tend to mar that last picture. Many times, however, the families do not think the service is carried out correctly unless they see the casket closed and the flowers taken out, and follow out after the casket has been removed.
The Church Funeral.—The funeral service from the church, or from the funeral home, can be directed in various ways, and seems to be the best method for all concerned. First of all the body can lie in state in the church for several hours before the service, so that the remains may be viewed. Then, just after the family has been seated, the casket is closed, and not opened again. This custom is usually observed in the case of a prominent person, although some churches now use this custom entirely.
After the service at the church is completed, the director follows the minister out, leading the pallbearers with the casket; then follow the family and friends, unless the family is seated in a separate room. If this be the case, one of the assistants accompanies them to their cars, while the director supervises the placing of the casket in the hearse and the seating of friends in cars. In the Catholic and Episcopal churches, the casket is never opened in church. It is placed at the altar with the foot end toward the altar, which, of course differs from the practice of practically all Protestant churches, in which the casket is placed crosswise in front-of the pulpit.
In our Adventist churches, directing is usually carried out in accordance with the custom of the community. Sometimes the church has a small hall where the casket is placed after the service, for the friends to pass by as they leave the church, giving the family the last opportunity to see their dear one in private. In other of our churches the casket is opened at the altar and the friends are dismissed one row at a time from the rear, likewise giving the family the last opportunity. In many churches, the casket is opened at the front of the church, and the friends come down one aisle and return through another to their seats. Then the casket is closed, and the family and friends follow it out.
Graveside Service.—Many times at the graveside service the minister begins his service as soon as the family is seated, before he receives the nod from the director. This is embarrassing, as some of the friends may still be arriving at the grave when the minister is finishing his service. The minister should always wait until he receives the signal from the director to proceed.
In my opinion, in order to make an ideal and suitable climax to the service, there should be music, preferably organ, at the end of every funeral, whether in the home, the funeral parlors, or the church. This music should be played until the family and friends are out of hearing distance. Also it is well that the family do not see their loved one shut beneath the heavy lid of the casket, and closed forever from their view. Their last memory picture should be of their loved one surrounded by flowers, reposing peacefully in the casket. As they go out to their cars, it softens their grief to hear the fading strains of beautiful organ music, which will always linger in their memory.
Opportunity to Reach Hearts
W. C. MOFFETT President Chesapeake Conference
The invitation to conduct a funeral service places a heavy responsibility on the minister. There is no time when hearts are more susceptible to the good news of the gospel. It is the first time that some hear the words of life from a Seventh-day Adventist minister, and the impressions made on such an occasion are far-reaching in their influence. Since many of these people are present out of respect for the deceased, it is hardly the place for an argumentative presentation of our doctrines. Taking advantage of their presence to force our doctrines upon them is likely to produce an unfavorable reaction.
Sorrowing relatives, ofttimes near the breaking point, should not be kept under the strain of a long-drawn-out sermon. And we are inclined to question the value of a formal sermon, with the professional touch. Martha and Mary longed for the presence of Jesus when their brother was taken from them, because of a certain sympathetic touch that grew out of previous contacts. This emphasizes the importance of promptness in visiting the sick, and in ministering to the needs of a soul facing eternity. These personal contacts may reach hearts.
As the blessed hope is set forth in all its surpassing beauty, with a note of triumphant certainty, it not only ministers comfort and hope to the sorrowing, but it carries an appeal to souls that are without God and without hope in the world. The effect of the sermon depends in a large degree upon the depth of the sincerity and the genuine sympathy of the speaker. If his own heart is touched with the feeling of others' sorrows, and he knows the true source of comfort and peace, he may he able to point others to that source in the hour of trial and bereavement.
It pays to call on the family after a funeral. Hearts that have been softened are open to appeals, and decisions are made for eternity. In some instances, through the influence of a funeral service the way has opened for the holding of successful efforts. I think of one such case in which a godly couple moved into an unentered section, and lived the truth before the community, but no results appeared. When the husband passed away, there was a large attendance of people who had never heard an Adventist sermon. The setting forth of the blessed hope gripped the hearts of the hearers. A call was made for an effort, which resulted in the raising up of a company of believers. Eternity alone will reveal the results of such services, as the Spirit of God makes impressions upon honest hearts.
Avoid Doctrinal Sermons
By H. E. WILLOUGHBY, Pastor, Seattle, Washington
A funeral is no occasion to try to make people listen to something which they do not wish to hear ; but it is the best time in the world to appeal to hearts and to make friends for God's truth. Therefore for a number of years I have made it a practice in funeral sermons to attempt to appeal to those present to draw close to the Saviour. I do not entirely avoid mention of all doctrinal truths, but I do carefully study to avoid preaching a doctrinal sermon. As a result of this plan, I have been asked many times to conduct funerals for people of other religious beliefs.
Last fall I preached a funeral sermon for a nonbeliever, and as a result we have an earnest family in our church today. These people were neighbors to the deceased, and were so impressed by the appeal made for those who still lived to be ready to meet God, that they began attending our church the the next Sabbath. Now the father and mother and two older sons are active members, and the younger children are happily looking forward to the time when they, too, will be old enough to be baptized. After a similar appeal made at the funeral of a sister whose husband had bitterly opposed every step of her Christian experience, he gave his heart to God, and has faithfully stood by the truth.
This plan has also proved a blessing to many in the church, and has resulted in many reconsecrations. I have in mind one family who had nearly drifted out of the message. At the death of their little girl, I had a deep burden that God might use my message to bring them back into the warmth of the truth. He answered my prayers, and today they are pillars in the church. Formal, doctrinal sermons on the state of the dead would not have accomplished these results.
I am not so much concerned about the formal part of a funeral service. However, I do feel that it should be carried on with the utmost dignity and tenderness for the feelings of those who mourn. At the grave I never use music unless the relatives request it, but repeat a few appropriate texts and a committal, and close with prayer.
The Funeral Record
By H. L. SHOUP, Pastor, Lansing, Michigan
An intelligent person naturally resents having his thinking done for him. But when, through the death of a dear one, the mind is distracted with grief, solicitous counsel is welcome. Tact and taste must be exercised, however, that the right thing shall be done in the right way. Ascertaining the wishes of the family concerning the funeral arrangements, and carrying them out, as far as possible, will impart comfort, inspire confidence, and open the way for future contacts. Whatever the service rendered, it should never lack living sympathy.
On funeral occasions a minister should never say that the irreligious are among the saved. Neither should he mount the judgment seat and declare that one who has apparently died unconverted is lost. A good rule to follow is to be sparing of personal eulogy. I have found the accompanying data blank helpful in collecting information for the funeral service.
Committal and Scriptures
By J. F. PIPER, President of the Central Union Conference
The following is the committal service which I use at the grave:
"I am the resurrection, and the life : he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall. never die." John 11 25, 26.
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth : Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors ; and their works do follow them."
Forasmuch as it has pleased God, in whose power are life and death, to remove from us this dear one, we commit his (or her) body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But we look for the general resurrection at the last day, and for a blessed immortality in the world to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who will appear in majesty and in power to judge the quick and the dead, when the earth and the sea shall give up their dead, and the corruptible bodies of those who are asleep in Him shall be awakened and fashioned like unto His own glorious body ; according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.
For the benediction I use these words:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all, Amen.
The following Scripture selections are appropriate to use at funeral services :
1. Ps. 39 :4-53. The sojourner's prayer.
2. Ps. 90 :1-15. Numbering our days.
3. Isa, 4o :6-10. All flesh is grass.
4. Reel, 7:1-4. The house of mourning.
5. 2 Sam. 12 :15-23. Sorrowing for a child.
6. Mark to :13-16. Jesus blessing little children.
7. Jer. 31:55-57. Weeping for children.
8. Matt. 15 :1-6. Childlikeness.
9. Mark 5 :22-24, 35-43. Jairus' daughter restored.
10. Luke 7 :11-x6. The widow's son raised. i. Ps. 103 :1-22. The Fatherhood of God.
11. Lam. 3 :22-33. The Lord's mercies.
12. Isa. 40 :25-31. Strength in God.
13. John 14:1-6. The Father's house of many mansions.
14. 1 Cor. 7:29-35. The shortness of time, and relation to the world.
15. 1 Thess. 5 :1-11. Consolation with regard to those who have died in the Lord.
16. I Cor. 15 :20-28. Certainty of the resurrection.
17. 1 Cor. 55:35-49. The resurrection body 19. 2 Cor. 5:1-1o. At home with the Lord.
18. Mark 13:32-37. Admonition to watchfulness.
19. Luke 12 :35-48. Admonition to faithfulness.
20. 12:5-8. Youth or age.
21. Job 1:20-22. Resignation in bereavement.