A Memorial Service

Today I did my second memorial service as the pastor at Camas Friends. The first was just a couple months ago and was for a lady I’d never met. But this time it was different. It was for the husband of one of our long-time attenders. He himself hadn’t been a part of our meeting, but the church had been praying for his health and trying to help his wife with things as needs arose. He was 69 and died from a battle with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s. What was really tragic about it was how fast his health declined (about 4 years since he was diagnosed).

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to funerals/memorial services (it’s probably a good thing, right?). I was able put to good use a minister’s manual I’ve co-opted from the Mennonites (until I can convince some Quaker ministers to write one for us – and I have been trying). The manual itself was one a dear friend, and one of our pastors, from Pasadena Mennonite used regularly (If it’s good enough for Jennifer, it’s good enough for me). It is times like this that that I have very little interest in trying to wing something or pull really off-the-cuff prayers, etc. I think it’s really important to be grounded in something deeper, some practices, Scripture readings and prayers that people have been doing and saying for a long time. Death is serious for those of us in the church. I think there’s comfort in that and I think God is in that too, or at least can be. The part I found really powerful was the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” said during the committal.

I had in mind I’d write up this kind of template/form sermon to be used in a pinch (how do pastor’s do this and prepare a sermon for Sunday?), but I just couldn’t bring myself to it. (At least not this time). So I wrote the whole thing out this week as usual. The eulogy was three-pages and my final reflections were another. The whole thing was based on this man’s life from stuff I compiled from emails, and conversations I’ve had with friends and family over the past couple weeks. It felt like I was really writing this man’s biography and as I reflected on his life I caught glimpses of bigger issues I’m working through (but I’ll save that for another time). Actually, meeting this gentleman months ago is one of the reasons why I’m currently trying to retool my own theology of conversion (first stop, James McClendon’s “Biography as Theology.”) But more on that later.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

3 thoughts on “A Memorial Service”

  1. I have a copy of a guide our YM did for memorial services…my guess is it’s 15 years old.

    I’ve come to really appreciate memorial services. Maybe even enjoy…and it’s precisely for the reason you mentioned. Biography is the story of God. It sounds like you listened well, and made this service personal. That’s essential!

    I remember when my wife’s grandma died. Her service was done by a pastor who did not know her. It was a “boiler plate” service, and all the family knew it, and it was hurtful. My mother-in-law told me, “Don’t ever do that.” I’ve found even if I don’t know the person who died, I can take some time to ask questions of the family, using their words in the service to make it be specific.

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