lundi, avril 15, 2013

Funeral evangelism

Is it possible that clergy who do an awful job preaching at memorial services are driving young people out of churches, perhaps forever?

It seems very possible to me.

Caveat, caveat -- having me, or many other clergy attend a funeral is like having a chef eat dinner at someone else's restaurant.

So take what I'm about to write with a small grain of salt.

Over the past year, I've attended two funerals that were excruciating, even to attend.

Both of the people who died were young -- parents were burying their children.

Both of the children were particularly promising -- stars that would have sparkled across our dark skies.

The two services brought out young people in droves.

Dressed in black dresses or suits, tears smudging the girl's mascara, they were at heartbreaking sight to behold.

In both, parents got up, walked to the lectern (perhaps the longest walk in the world on that particular day), and eulogized their kids.

All the parents did a fantastic job. I couldn't believe the grace and class they demonstrated.

One couple got a standing ovation.

And one clergyman was wonderful -- honest about the unbelievable pain in that sanctuary, how much we don't know, and how much God loves us through it all.

The other was anodyne, bland, and totally forgettable.

We live in an increasingly secularized society, one in which many have grown up without any acquaintance with the Christian or Hebrew scriptures. But people still crave a way to make meaning in their lives.

Adolescents, young adults, the elderly and even middle-aged people like me had crammed into the pews, desperately hoping to hear something that would allow for the tragedy, explain the scriptural perspective, and give us a bit of consolation in our shared grief.

Let alone the parents. Shouldn't they have a right to expect that from their clergy?

In fact, it was the parents, giving bravura homilies on one of the hardest days of their entire life, who brought down the house, and gave the mourners something to hang on to.

Both services happened to be Catholic. But they could have been conducted by Protestants.

I don't happen to believe in altar calls at funerals. I've seen that happen in Protestant funerals -- it seems cheesy to me.

Very rarely do people get scared into believing something.

They may, however, be invited to look deeper.  Not to be crass, but what better time than at a memorial?

And don't your flocks DESERVE decent funeral preaching?

After all, isn't that what, in part,  they pay you for?