Funeral Etiquette

Funeral Etiquette

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The passing of a loved one results in grief and in some ways much stress having to relate to insurance companies, place of employment, funeral home, cemetery, family members, and in no way least, a pastor, priest, or elder, etc. And yet, these interactions do not constitute the end of the ordeal for family members, as the funeral service itself can take on the unexpected, turning into a long and drawn-out sitting.  Accordingly, I share a few observations and suggestions.
 
Condolences, Remarks, and Tributes
Pastors and elders should assist the family of the deceased in preparing the program. Thereby, counsel could be given with regard to the number of persons to bring condolences, remarks, and or tributes. My observation is that after two or three persons would have spoken, there is repetition and there seems to be a challenge to stick to the time of 2-3 minutes allotted. It appears that there is an aura about funeral services that influences even the shiest of persons to speak longer than required, especially if encouraged on by hearty “Amens!” from the congregants.  Even pastors and elders could extend the time with each speaking. It is not necessary for all pastors and elders to offer condolences. The conference president, ministerial secretary and /or a church pastor could represent the other pastors and or elders. There is a need to assist the family of the deceased in avoiding the pressure to yield to some last minute requests to speak or sing.
 
Special Music or Musical Selection
Musical selection implies just singing or an instrumental rendition. However, if you have attended a few funerals, you may have witnessed persons giving remarks or a “sermonette” prior to singing or playing, oblivious to the fact that time is moving and that others are to follow, including the pastor with the sermon or homily. In some churches, just before the musical item, an usher escorts the musician/singer to the front and reminds him/her of what he/she is expected to do. Then, as soon as the person before him/her leaves the podium, he/she (the musician/singer) is in place to sing or perform without unnecessarily extending the song or the service. As a footnote, we need to be careful of the message that we are sending when we allow some persons to speak from the main lectern or pulpit and others from below. It may be better to have all persons, except for the platform participants, operate from the lectern below (inclusive of remarks, tributes and musical).  
 
Reading the Obituary
Most persons read the obituary during the funeral proceedings or as soon as they sit down to await the commencement of the service, especially if they are on time and fortunate to obtain a copy of the funeral brochure. So when someone reads the obituary aloud from the podium during the service or requests that everyone reads it silently together, time is being utilized that could be used for another item.
 
Sermon/Homily
It is unnecessary to preach a long sermon, especially after the family and others have been sitting for a long time; neither is it fair to the pastor or priest to have to cut short his or her sermon because persons speaking or performing before the sermon consumed the time, and as a result, a good number of persons leave before hearing the message.  This raises a question: “What is the purpose of a funeral service?”
 
Follow-up
            Following the burial of a loved one is the time when it really counts to stay in touch with the family. Visits, telephone calls and assisting with meals and chores could be very helpful. Of course, while there is no spotlight on them, these acts may be necessary. Pastors and elders, let us do our part to make funeral services shorter and on point. And above all, pay attention to post funeral care and support.