Suggestions for Helping the Bereaved
DWIGHT S. WALLACK Pastor-Evangelist, Michigan Conference
When bereavement comes, we have an unusual opportunity to serve those in sorrow. Not only is it a time of opportunity to serve those in our own church, but it is a time when often we meet those who are not our own members and with whom we would otherwise not normally become acquainted. Difficult as it is to foresee and satisfy all the needs of those who have suffered a death in the family, nevertheless the minister who knows how to give both spiritual and practical assistance in arranging for the funeral and other details that must be faced can be of untold help and comfort.
Before the family of one of our members is overtaken in sorrow, it would seem that we as ministers ought to do more to let them know that we wish especially to serve them at this time. We should already have gained their confidence and they should recognize our wish to help them not only in their spiritual needs but in the business arrangements that must be made with the funeral home, the cemetery, et cetera. To wait for death to strike and then try to give an understanding of the many details involved is difficult for all concerned. Perhaps the best way we can help our people is to learn all we can by preliminary investigation of the funeral establishments of our community and then write a letter to our members. To write on such matters is a delicate undertaking and requires much wisdom. But we could frame a letter in the form of sharing information with them.
While specific and factual information on the facilities, services, and prices of a funeral home is an important consideration, our primary concern should be the reputation, the character, the integrity of the funeral director and his methods of doing business. The vast majority of funeral directors are honorable men who are fair in their dealings with the public. Reputable funeral directors are proud and happy to show a minister their facilities, including those parts of their establishments that are not generally accessible to the public. It would be well, in a new pastorate, to have a friendly visit with the principal funeral homes, asking to see all of the establishment. During this visit one could ascertain the methods of pricing the services and become familiar with all that is involved. Funeral directors, like other businessmen, often display only their more expensive caskets rather than their entire line. However, the hour of bereavement is not the time or place for pressure selling methods, and a sympathetic director usually leaves the family in the selection room to make their own choice. A tactful and wellinformed minister can be of great help at this time.
The Minister's First Contact
As soon as possible after a death has occurred the minister should try to visit the family. His comfort, courage, counsel, and sound judgment are seldom more needed than at this time. He will want to give what help he can in arranging for the services. Certain details might well be left for his second visit, however. But on this first call he may be able to give tactful suggestions regarding the choice of the funeral home, and here his previous investigation will be of great value. If at all possible, the family should reach a unanimous decision as to the particular mortuary desired. He can also help the family select the time and place of the service. When the family feels more composed, however, it is easier to give more detailed thought to some of these matters. It is of great importance to consult all the members of the family, if possible, remembering especially the wishes of those who are close relatives, but not members of our church.
Above all, the family should know that the minister very keenly feels their loss. He should enter into their feelings, as far as possible, with genuine and sincere sympathy. Once you feel that your help is no longer needed, never pass by the opportunity to call the family together and ask God to be with them through the hours and days of sorrow just ahead.
Planning the Service
A second visit is often necessary to plan the details of the service. This should not be a hasty visit, but should include the planning of all members of the family that can be brought together. First comes the choice of minister. Here is a time for the pastor to make it easy for the family to call upon any minister they wish, for they may feel closer to another minister. If, however, they desire someone other than their pastor, it would seem ethical and kind for him to contact the out-of-town minister, thus making him feel at ease in coming to their aid.
Sometimes we may face a difficult situation, being called, for instance, to perform a service for one who was once a member of our church, but who may have left our church to join an other organization. The remaining relatives ought to consider the wishes of the deceased and cooperate in having the minister of the church of which he or she was a member take charge of the service. This procedure will be less likely to make enemies among the relatives who are not our members.
Lodges and fraternities are occasionally asked to have a part in the service that we are to conduct. The family should decide who is to have charge, the minister or the lodge. If possible, arrange to have your message come last, after the lodge rites. This planning visit should include the music for the service, arranging for an organist, if necessary, and for singers and vocal selections, if desired. It should also be a time when a minister aids in the selection of pallbearers and in the planning of an obituary if the family wishes to have one read. For the sake of a shorter service, the obituary is sometimes omitted; if one is used, it should be brief.
This visit should also include a discussion of the text, poems, or other remarks the family wishes included in the talk. If the deceased was a faithful member of the church, one can borrow his Bible and plan the service around the underlined texts that have meant a great o deal to him. These texts and poems that might be found in the pages of a well-used Bible mean a great deal to the family and can form the basis of an excellent funeral talk.
Finally, after this visit, the pastor should counsel with the funeral director about all plans and how he and the family wish the services to be carried out. Ministers and funeral directors may have set methods for the conducting of a funeral service, bullet us remember that the family's desires are supreme, and fit our service to their wishes.
Where Should the Funeral Service Be Held?
In the vast majority of cases funeral services for church members can wisely be held in the church. Years ago this was done, but today the majority are held in the funeral establishments. Part of the reason for this change in location is the fact that some funeral directors prefer their own chapels because of greater convenience and the advertising value. Some try, through the use of stained glass, church candles, pictures, and other devices, to take the place of the church. While such places are good, yet it seems more appropriate to make use of the church where the deceased has been a church member. The transference of funerals from the church to the funeral establishment has come about perhaps because of reluctance to go to the extra expense of heating and making the church building ready for a funeral. But no commercial establishment can truly take the place of the church, where God has said He will meet with His people. Relatives and friends of the deceased who are not members of our church will be impressed if it is the right kind of service, and they will be more willing to return to that church for future visits. The extra work necessary to have the service in the church is well spent for the benefits it brings. In very large churches where few friends are expected, it may, of course, be best to have the service in the funeral establishment.
The Funeral Address
The funeral address is one part of the service that should receive careful attention and should properly fit into the pattern of a simple service. This order I have found helpful: Scripture, obituary (if desired by family), prayer, special music, then the sermonet, closing with a brief prayer. At the time of a funeral service one's remarks should be directed principally to the nearest relatives, those who suffer the most from the loss. For this reason it is wise to request funeral directors to place the desk in such a way that one can keep eye contact with the family. It is, of course, essential to remember all present, but surely we should not stand in such a way or speak in such terms that we fail to direct our remarks primarily to the family. A good funeral talk can well be given in from ten to fifteen minutes; twenty, at the very most. There is perhaps no time in life when it is more difficult to concentrate. More by far is remembered from a very short heart-to-heart talk than from a thirty- to forty-minute discourse.
The funeral talk should be made cheerful, hopeful, simple, and brief. Mere emotional ism really has no place in the sermonet. Especially where the deceased has been a loyal church member and has been known for his faithfulness, there is nothing wrong in personal reference to good characteristics. Some might say that a funeral talk should be completely impersonal. That, of course, would be necessary if the deceased has made absolutely no profession of religious experience of any kind. But most families appreciate having the good qualities of the deceased briefly mentioned in a dignified and judicious manner. While one might properly refer to the good, one should ignore the unpleasant circumstances that might have surrounded the death of the individual. It would be wise to preach an entirely different type of message for those whose reputation in the community may not have been the best, whereas it is easier to prepare a sermon for one who was known by all to be a consecrated Christian. It is always appropriate to call upon the living to serve God in a better way, to prepare themselves for the crisis which must come to us all, to look with strong faith to the promises of God's Word, to emulate the good and beautiful characteristics of lives that have closed, and to find their comfort in time of need from our loving heavenly Father, who longs to help when people sorrow.
The funeral service is not the time or the place for a doctrinal study. At one particular funeral service a certain minister, with more enthusiasm than sense, said, "Brother, there are many non-Adventists present who may never again have the opportunity of hearing our message. I am going to give it to them." He did just that! In a fifty-minute sermon, every major point of our message was preached, including tithing! A truly pathetic demonstration of the lack of Christian tact and sympathy! The funeral sermonet provides a wonderful opportunity to make friends, but people al ays know when you have them in a corner. When people cannot escape, why should we deliberately take advantage of an occasion to deliver a message that has absolutely no relevance? As we consider the funeral talk even for the most consecrated Christian, we should choose our words very carefully, not guaranteeing eternal life to anyone. Only God knows the future, but we can emphasize the certainty of the Christian hope and the reality of redemption.
At the conclusion of the talk and prayer, if music is planned it is always good for the minister to sit down during the rendition of the musical number, after which he takes his place at the head of the casket and remains in a dignified attitude during the time the friends and relatives file past. At such a time relatives may not know what to do, and the funeral director cannot step forward and suggest that the family leave, but the minister can. To know how to speak just a word or two and take the arm of the sorrowing and, if necessary, assist them toward the exit of the church or chapel is a grace every minister should cultivate.
At the Graveside
After the funeral cortege reaches the cemetery, it is proper that the minister lead the way slowly to the burial site. Then, taking care to stand at the head of the grave, be sure to face the family. Wait until all are present before beginning this brief committal service. The funeral director can easily give the signal.
If a lodge or fraternity is to have any part in the graveside service, it would be best for it to be completed first. This is a place where few words are needed on the part of the minister. Perhaps a brief Scripture, a poem, and final prayer of committal may be all that is necessary. Again, we should make this part of the service dignified and, above all, hopeful. We can speak definitely of the certainty of the resurrection. The use of such words as "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," which for long years have been part of the ritual of some of the older Protestant churches, is being largely omitted today. Sometimes dust or flower petals are sprinkled over the casket to signify that the loved one is now returning to the dust from which he came. While this is theologically sound, and is naturally expected by some, yet why emphasize it here? It does not comfort the sorrowing ones. Is it not better to emphasize the coming resurrection day, when God's faithful servants will come forth to reign with Him eternally? After a concluding prayer the minister should always speak final words of courage to the family and nearest relatives and, if necessary, assist them to their cars.
Shall We Accept Gratuities for the Funeral Service?
Every Seventh-day Adventist minister is paid for his time to serve his church and its members. Surely this includes the funeral service; therefore payment for this service is out of place and should be discouraged. It would be wise, in the general informational letter previously mentioned, to let our people know that we prefer to serve them at this time without receiving any monetary reward, thus sparing embarrassment at the time of a funeral. If they still wish to give something, it may be wise to accept it rather than offend them, and such gifts can be given to the Dorcas Welfare Society or. to some other worthy cause.
In the case of a funeral for one who has no connection with our church, the same principle still holds good. This is a wonderful opportunity to let people know that the blessings of God cannot be purchased with money and that you, as God's servant, are perfectly happy to serve them without any thought of monetary return. There is probably a single condition where it would be proper to accept money, and that is if a family has requested your service and it has been necessary to travel some distance. To receive the actual amount of expenses involved would be a normal procedure.
No funeral can properly be called a pleasant experience for the minister. It can, however, be a most rewarding and satisfying experience for one who is able to give the spiritual help and practical assistance needed by the family and friends in their hour of great sorrow.
An Appraisal of Our Church Building Program Part IV
E. D. CALKINS Pastor and Building Consultant, East Pennsylvania Conference
It has been said that the character of a civilization is judged by its architecture. And rationalize as we will, the public still is judging us by our church architecture. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). One of the most effective ways to let your "works" testify is through the medium of your church structure. Let it be the "city that is set on an hill" (Matt. 5:14) whose light shines forth as a testimony in these latter days.
Choosing a Site
The location of the church is very important. Often a site is agreed upon because a generous member has a lot he desires to donate as his portion of the undertaking. Again, lots are often chosen because a saving of a thousand dollars can be effected. Neither procedure may be advisable. It is true that "a penny saved is a penny earned," but it is likewise true that we may be "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
Recently the writer assisted two congregations to see the relative merit of more desirable lots even at an added cost. Consider that an attractive chapel might cost fifty thousand dollars, but with the expenditure of one or two thousand dollars more, a far better location might be secured. The relative cost of the site is small in comparison with the entire figure. Furthermore, it should be considered that the cost of building will be as great on a back street as on a desirable boulevard. The locating committee will give study to all the factors relative to securing a suitable site. They will consider such questions as: Is public transportation adequate? Is there ample parking space? (Some cities are beginning to require off-street parking areas for public buildings.) Will there be room for grass and shrubbery without crowding the lot? Is it in a representative area that is not likely to become a slum section? Does it avoid noisy factory neighbors? Is it a corner lot?
Have improvements such as curb, walk, sewer, and water been installed? The aggregate of these items alone will be a substantial amount if installation is made after purchase. A lot that lies low should be avoided, as fill is expensive and the danger of a wet basement is always disturbing. To climb a high bank or flight of stairs is another handicap, particularly to elderly people. It also detracts from the inviting effect of the entrance. Before purchase of a site, counsel should be sought from the conference representatives and investigation made as to city zoning and building restrictions. The committee will ascertain if there are deed restrictions that would prohibit the erection of a church (or school).
After approval has been secured, recommendation made to the church, and affirmative action taken, the sales agreement will then be made out in the name of the conference association. Competent counsel should be sought in the legal transaction. Title insurance is be coming a normal and general procedure, and should be considered. The deed should be placed with the conference secretary-treasurer.
Creating the Plan
The plans committee will do much planning and praying before they have decided upon the plan. In the early stages they will amass material on every phase of church planning. They will list the needs of the new building, which should be planned to be adequate for a number of years of membership growth. Thus seating capacity, Sabbath school depart mental needs, mothers' room, rest-rooms, baptistry, Dorcas and welfare center, boiler room, cloakroom, and perhaps an assembly room or chapel in the. larger churches will all be given consideration. If your conference has a building counseling department, the committee will do well to invite the representative to meet with them. He will have scores of church plans and ideas with which to work. It might be that a church answering your description has already been built, the plan of which could be secured reason ably. This one item could be a considerable saving to any congregation. However, it is never advisable to use a plan only because it saves the church money.
The investment in a competent architect is perhaps the best investment made. Nothing is more heart sickening than to see a new church with grotesque proportions. Would you rather invest nineteen thou sand dollars in a crude building, or invest twenty thousand dollars and have it attractive? The cost of an architect is generally the only difference. "We have no command from God to erect a building which will compare for richness and splendor with the temple. But we are to build a humble house of worship, plain and simple, neat and perfect in its design.
"Then let those who have means look to it that they are as liberal and tasteful in erecting a temple wherein we may worship God as they have been in locating and building and furnishing their own houses." Evangelism, p. 377. Large dividends may result from the building committee's visiting other representative churches and discussing plans and problems of construction. At present our denomination does not have a standard style of architecture. To say that Gothic or Colonial is the only fitting form of architecture for our churches, and that all others should be discarded, would be folly in deed.
The style of architecture does not necessarily determine its attractiveness, but its proportion, balance, and symmetry do. "Churches are built in many places, but they need not all be built in precisely the same style. Different styles of building may be appropriate to different locations." Ibid., p. 379. After the architect has been selected and given a list of the needs of your congregation, he will then create a plan or two to be submitted to your committee.
Continue to counsel together with your architect and your confer ence consultant until an acceptable plan has been decided upon. You would normally pay the architect a portion of his fee at this point, unless the project is relatively small. State building regulations governing churches and schools must be met in many States. These govern the width of aisles, stairways, number of exits, and other fire regulations. The code may call for a fireproof or fire-resistant type of construction. Some States, such as Pennsylvania, require an emergency lighting system installed in school buildings. When preliminary plans are available, all final alterations should be made. With these plans a contractor or builder can generally give a rough estimate as to the cost of construction. The plans may need to be adjusted accordingly. The committee may well provide itself with a check list to safeguard what it considers necessities. Such items as electric outlets for equipment, telephone installation, sound system, window height in department rooms, heat zoning, lighting effects on rostrum, drinking fountain, acoustical properties, missionary supply room, ventilation, et cetera, might be included. The completed working plans will be submitted to the State or city, or both, for approval, if necessary, as well as to the conference committee, who will in turn submit them to the union and General conferences when necessary. Also a building permit must be secured in a municipality before construction work is begun.
General Contract or Separate Contracts?
Shall we have a contractor, or plan to build the structure without such service? This is perhaps the greatest question facing the average congregation.
The contract price is generally a staggering figure when compared with the sacrificial giving of widows and laboring people. It will, however, assure the congregation of a completed building according to plans and specifications, and will generally result in a better building in a specified time.
An alternate plan would be to let separate contracts for particular types of work. A building contractor might bid on the masonry work, including brick, block, and stone. Separate con tracts could then be issued for concrete work, roofing, heating, plumbing, electrical work, painting, and other various types of work. In a large building operation the writer con ducted, he hired a building superintendent, a crew of masons, and a couple of laborers for the exterior construction. This permitted one of our members who is engaged in heating to install the heating system. One of our plumbers installed the plumbing. Tile setters did the tilework, including the installation of asphalt tile. A cement finisher supervised the concrete work. An electrician installed all the interior "wiring and fixtures. Two painters carried the burden of painting. In all these lines volunteer labor was a large item, which resulted in the saving of thousands of dollars. Donated materials were a help in several fields also. These savings would have been almost impossible if a general contract had been given. If such a plan is followed, it calls for careful supervision, the carrying of compensation insurance, and construction insurance on the building. The electrical installations will need periodic inspection by the underwriters. The plumbing work must likewise pass inspection, and must be installed by a registered plumber if the code in your city so demands. City building inspectors, and State if necessary, will make a final inspection of construction work, largely in the interest of safety features and to see that the approved plan has been followed.
Often our smaller building programs are left unfinished because the congregation moves into the building and the urge to finish is lost, or the pastor is moved and the new man has other interests. But the job is not completed until the lawn is in and the entire plot is landscaped. This need not wait until all interior work is completed, but should be cared for as early as practicable. It is really a part of our public-relations program.
Brethren, let us keep our buildings in good repair and well painted. The appearance of the church building will be an index of the respect shown toward you and the members of your congregation. [End of Series]
The Midweek Meeting
ROSE E. BOOSE Santa Ana, California [Our pastors will appreciate these practical suggestions and thoughts on a vital need, which were prepared at the re quest of your editors.]
God has blessed this church with a wealth of instruction on various phases of the work of the church. An abundance of counsel deals with prayer meetings and how to make them "the most interesting gatherings that are held." One thing that should be heeded is the ap pointed hour for worship. We are told: "Meetings for conference and prayer should not be made tedious. If possible, all should be prompt to the hour appointed; and if there are dilatory ones, who are half an hour or even fifteen minutes behind the time, there should be no waiting. If there are but two present, they can claim the promise. The meeting should open at the appointed hour i£ possible, be there few or many present." Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 577, 578.
Don't scold the people who are present be cause the rest of the church is not coming to prayer meeting. Those who have come should be received kindly and encouraged, not depressed by the rehearsal of reproof for the absent ones. "Friendship is better than criticism. True friend ship which sees the good in man, and which is ever ready to minimize the evil, is far better for God's work than criticism." Dwight L. Moody, the Man and His Mission, p. 252.
The study of the Word of God, prayer, and praise are the elements that make a prayer meeting. Much thought should be given to the studies or exposition of the Word at the mid week meetings. By all means, whoever is in charge should present the subject that was announced at the previous meeting. In one known instance a certain subject was announced in four consecutive church bulletins, and was never touched till the fifth week. Meantime some had dropped out of the prayer meeting group. The subjects presented should not be too long or too involved. Few can follow a long-drawnout series of expositions on a single chapter or book of the Bible, and they become weary and remain away from the meetings.
I think it was the late W. A. Spicer who said, "The truths which made us Seventh-day Adventists will keep us Seventh-day Adventists." Here, then, would be a rich field of material that could be presented anew with fresh mate rial that would interest all who come to the prayer meeting. The distinctive doctrines of the Bible are not too well known, and it would be profitable to review them in the midweek meetings. They are too seldom presented in the Sabbath services. In one of our largest churches notes were kept on every sermon preached in more than a year, and not one sermon was ever given on any of the distinctive truths of Seventh-day Adventism. That, I fear, can be said of many churches. We need more often to hear that our blessed Lord will soon come again. There are more evidences of His return than the hydrogen bomb and crimes reported in the newspapers.
We need to hear more on the sacredness of the Sabbath and the joy to be found in its proper observance. The fact of our living in the closing days of the final judgment needs to be kept before, us, for many do not take the time to keep these things fresh in their minds. One could continue; but where could be found a more appropriate time to renew our-love for these truths than in the prayer meetings? These subjects, in spite of their familiarity, can be made most interesting.
When the Word of God has been "heated red hot" by the Holy Spirit, as was said of D. L. Moody, then people may say as one of Moody's hearers said, "Well, I didn't think the time would ever come when I should prefer a prayer meeting to a theatre." "Moody stuck to the Bible, and therefore the people stuck to him. , . . He concerned himself simply with the Bible, and the hungry multitude crowded to hear him. There are scores of ministers that concern themselves with everything under heaven except the Bible and as a consequence they preach to a beggarly amount o£ empty pews, and the people are none the worse off tor staying away." Ibid., p. 242. "Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend." Steps to Christ, p. 97. In what more beautiful and simple language could one say what prayer is? Another statement from the pen of the Spirit of prophecy urges freedom as in one's own family: "From the light which I have received, our meetings should be spiritual and social, and not too long. ... As in a united family, simplicity, meekness, confidence, and love should exist in the hearts of brethren and sisters who meet to be refreshed and invigorated by bringing their lights together." Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 579. "Brethren and sisters, when you assemble for social worship, believe that Jesus meets with you; believe that He is willing to bless you. . . . When you pray, be brief, come right to the point. . . . God will bestow upon us every needed blessing if we ask Him in simplicity and faith." Ibid., vol. 5, p. 201. In this quotation, as in many others in the Spirit of prophecy, we are admonished to be brief and to come right to the point in our prayers. Just what are considered to be long prayers and testimonies? The following statements will tell: "The testimonies should be short, and of a nature to help others. Nothing will so completely kill the spirit of devotion as for one person to take up twenty or thirty minutes in a long testimony." —Gospel Workers, p. 171. (Italics supplied.) Twenty or thirty minutes may have been a common thing in former days, but certainly not today. Of such it is said, "They weary the angels and the people who listen to them." Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 71. For what should we pray? "We should not come to the house of God to pray for our families unless deep feeling shall lead us while the Spirit of God is convicting them. Generally, the proper place to pray for our families is at the family altar. When the subjects of our prayers are at a distance, the closet is the proper place to plead with God for them. When in the house o£ God, we should pray for a present blessing and should expect God to hear and answer our prayers. Such meetings will be lively and interesting." Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 145, 146. "The prayer and social meeting should be a sea son of special help and encouragement." Gospel Workers, p. 171. "Brethren, carry the people with you in your prayers. Go to your Saviour in faith, and tell Him what you need on that occasion. Let the soul go out after God with intense longing for the blessing needed at that time." Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 201. "The prayer meetings should be the most interesting gatherings that are held. . . . The people hunger for the bread of life. If they find it at the prayer meeting they will go there to receive it." Ibid., vol. 4, p. 70. "The best way to improve a prayer meeting is to so conduct it that the presence of God will be manifest there." R. A. TORREY, quoted in Dwight L. Moody, the Man and His Mission, p. 143.