I’D ONLY been in town a few days and here I was driving to a house I had never been to, to meet a family I didn’t know, to arrange the funeral of a person I had never met.
I asked myself, “What on earth am I doing?” The urge to turn around was quite real.
Yet at the same time I felt like this was exactly where I was supposed to be.
It was my first funeral in my first parish.
I had only attended a handful previously. Fortunately I had officiated at a funeral in my training, with my hand held by my supervisor, but now I was it – the ‘expert’ about all things funereal.
Five years later, still in the same parish and having conducted more than 100 funerals, I have a bit more experience, although I wouldn’t call myself an expert.
I conduct every funeral as an individual event.
While there are various prayers and orders I recycle to keep things manageable, I cannot do a one-size-fits-all service.
At a funeral we come to honour and respect the person who has died and I take this very seriously.
I also come to a funeral service with something to bring – the message of the gospel, hope in the resurrection. I take that very seriously as well.
The majority of funerals I conduct are for people who no longer attend worship, but still have an attachment to faith.
I look for how this person’s life intersects with the gospel.
Virtually everyone’s story somehow connects with the good news of Jesus.
Be it their quality of honesty, their love of fishing, their position as one of ‘the least of these’ or even their nickname.
I tell their story and I end with how I see it connecting with God’s story in Jesus. Their life is often the ‘text’ for the gospel.
I have found this to bring much comfort and hope to the family.
The more I talk about the loved one, the more people are open to hear what I have to say about faith.
This means I have to listen intently to the family and the story they tell to get a sense of the person, to enable myself to make the funeral personal.
As I write this I’m preparing to conduct my 107th funeral; a lady who loved dolphins. What do dolphins have to do with the gospel? You’d be surprised.
Rev Paul Clark is a children’s book author, creator of the Car Park Parables DVD, and minister with Burdekin Uniting Church in North Queensland
Photo : Rev Paul Clark