I realise that a post about funerals is a little unusual but at times funerals seem to dominate my life! However, most people have to organise very few funerals and I wondered if a little information from my point of view would be helpful
As you know I am a retired vicar. Until nearly nine years ago I was vicar of five parishes in rural Lincolnshire but although I have retired I still take a couple of funerals a month. This might sound weird but I enjoy taking funerals - it's really satisfying making a very difficult day a little less daunting. The regular clergy could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of funerals so help is needed from people like me.
Maybe you've had to organise a funeral and you've felt a little embarrassed because the person you've loved wasn't the most regular of churchgoers and you're not sure how the vicar will be with that. I can promise you that the vicar is very well used to that situation - it's true of the vast majority of funerals which I take. I'm just happy to help. (By the way, I'm saying "vicar" because that's the usual term in the Church of England but much of what I say here would be true of any Christian minister.)
Often the first thing that happens from my point of view is that I get a call from a Funeral Director. We'll work out a suitable time for a service, s/he will tell me if it will be a cremation or burial and we'll make outline arrangements. S/he will check back with the family and then send me details - age, next-of-kin, as well as timings. These days it's easy to get all that sorted using e mail.
Once I have the necessary information the first thing is that the family is in my prayers. I've been bereaved myself, I've had to organise funerals, and I've appreciated the prayers of others. I'll then contact the family and make arrangements to visit them. I try and make this fairly soon as I want the families to feel confident that I'm"on the case". Often I make more than one visit.
When I visit I take the information which the funeral director has sent and I try to get a feel for the sort of funeral which is wanted. Often the family will want a thanksgiving for a life. It's helpful if they've written down a few facts but I try and get stories, opinions, little ideas about how the person lived his or her life. I try and make every funeral as personal as possible but I can do that only of the family gives me some material to work with. Because I work in rural communities I find that even if I don't know the family I know someone else who does, and I ask if it's OK to talk to those mutual friends. I don't think I've ever been asked not to. I make loads of notes and it's often a session filled with both tears and laughter as we talk about a much loved husband or mum, sister or uncle. Before I leave I always say a prayer with the family.
In my next post I'll write about what I do after this visit.
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