Going out with a bang

The pastor's day

Dennis Campbell is the pastor of the Keene, New Hampshire, and Brattleboro, Vermont, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

When I answered the phone, it was an invitation to conduct a double funeral for an older couple. Tragically, while they had been doing errands, the husband had lost control of their car and crashed into a stone wall. They had both been killed in the accident. The couple had been members in my previous church district but had since moved to another town. The children were calling to ask me to conduct the funeral.

It was a beautiful summer morning when I arrived at the funeral home. The owner of the home was out of town; however, his daughter was on duty. Because it was a double funeral, the hall was crowded and a bit warm. The couple had lived full, healthy lives, and this fact seemed to ease the sorrow and sense of loss always felt at funerals.

Two hearses were needed to conduct the couple to the cemetery, and after the service we set out on the 80-mile journey to the cemetery.

Some followed the customary procession; others who knew the way went on their own. I had conducted services before in that same cemetery, and as I got closer I was pleased to find that the busy country road had been widened and straightened extensively during my two-year absence. As I sped along enjoying the sunshine and the smooth, new pavement, I nearly missed the entrance to the rural graveyard. Braking sharply, I turned into the drive, drove up over the knoll in the front of the cemetery, and joined a few family members who were already there. As we waited under the shade of a big maple tree, I was able to revisit with family members. Although we could not see the highway from our position, we could hear the cars and trucks as they passed.

After half an hour, we heard traffic approaching, followed by a short screech of rubber and a sudden crash! Giving each other that "Oh no! It couldn't be!" look, we dashed for the road. Topping the knoll, we saw the first hearse with its rear door smashed in! The new (borrowed) hearse was a few feet behind it. Its grill and radiator were crushed and dented, its hood was buckled like a chalet roof, and anti freeze was running down onto the new pavement! Surveying the scene was a group of thoroughly mortified morticians!

Although no one was hurt, the problem was that one hearse would not run, and the door was smashed shut on the other. We black-suited mourners ushered the family aside and pried open the door of the lead hearse with tire irons. The couple were then delivered to the graveside.

I tried to keep a straight face as I delivered my five-minute committal sermon and prayer to the not-so-serious gathering. The embarrassed morticians apologized profusely to the family but they received laughter from the grown children of the deceased couple. "Dad would have loved it," one said. "It's a shame he wasn't able to enjoy it" said another. "If Dad could have planned it this way, he would have." As we walked to our cars, one person commented, "He's the only person I know who has gone to his grave from a car accident--twice."


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Dennis Campbell is the pastor of the Keene, New Hampshire, and Brattleboro, Vermont, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

November 1999

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