Church Work: Last Words
This is another post in a Friday blog series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. It’s a series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter.
The following is a guest blog by Eddie Sharp on how he goes about writing a funeral and caring for a family in the middle of grieving. For those of you who are not familiar with Eddie, he is a legend in West Texas. He is one of the best ministers I know of at doing funerals, and I’m so glad he’s willing to share some of the wisdom from his experience. Here’s Eddie:
Writing about funerals calls for a bit of restraint and focus for me. I have buried a small town over the years. I think I did 500 funerals or so during my ministry with the University Church of Christ in Abilene, TX between 1980 and 2008.
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The funeral is a time for service in the name of Jesus. It is a time when the church can honor its beloved members, a time when faith finds a its feet to stand in the presence of loss, and a time when one can minister into the lives of those without faith caught up by the grinding surprise of mortality.
Some presuppositions ought to be laid out:
- Every funeral you do is played out against the backdrop of your own mortality and how you have resolved your feelings about your own death in the presence of the cross and the resurrection. We have the right to do funerals as men and women who believe the tomb is empty. Hope and joy sing harmony behind all we do.
- Doing a funeral costs you in your body and soul. You have no place to hide from the loss experienced by someone else. You have no right to hide behind your own denial or behind some structured funeral liturgy that offers to insulate you from the ugliness of death and loss.
- The minister standing in the circle of death and mourning makes a promise to God and the family that he or she will not run from the sorrow of the loss, the dysfunction of the family or anything else about the situation created by the death. We will not run.
My first funeral was for an 80-year-old granddad in Trent, TX. who took his 20-year-old granddaughter on her first dove hunt. She followed the birds across until she took the shot into her granddad’s head. They called to see if the new preacher at the Church of Christ in Trent could do the funeral. They are were not members, but they needed a preacher For Tricks.
I was 20 and finishing my last semester as an undergrad Bible major at ACU. My mentor and father in ministry, Jimmy Jividen, had given me a template for working through a funeral process. It was what I had; it served me well enough. I can’t remember a thing I said that day, but I’ll never forget the glazed eyes of that granddaughter.
I can’t remember what I said; I remember I answered the call and didn’t run away. Many of you reading this piece know exactly how it feels to be so alone in the moment and yet feel the presence of God empowering you. You know.