I often get asked about funerals. Especially, those who have never done one, but are desiring to pastor. There are so many details to know and unique challenges to face, it can be hard to sift through the practicalities of funerals. For this post, I would like to submit some basic logistics that are essential to know as you show up a few minutes before performing a funeral.
Depending on the situation, arrive at the funeral home 15-30 minutes before the funeral starts. This allows you to greet the family, check in with the funeral director, and ensure plans haven’t changed since the director last talked with you (because they often change). This will also prevent one of the most embarrassing moments of your ministry—being late to conduct a funeral (trust me I know). Inform the funeral director at this time whether you will ride with him to the graveside, or drive on your own in the procession. Make sure those involved in the service are accounted for and have prepared what you have asked of them. It is ideal if you can gather others involved in the service a few minutes before in order to talk through the service and pray asking the Lord to awaken souls to the gospel and comfort his hurting people. Finally, make sure you start on time. Many folks have come early with the anticipation that it will start when announced. Though there are exceptions, you should be able to count on the funeral director to help, not hinder this being accomplished.
Some funeral homes close the casket before the service begins. In one tradition, the minister is typically asked to meet for prayer with the family prior to the beginning of the funeral service. Often, if the casket is already in the chapel, the director will close the casket prior to the family’s entrance. In other traditions where the deceased has been lying in state in a family room, the minister will pray with the family, and then the family will be led to the chapel. Meanwhile, the minister waits with the casket as the directors close it. Then he leads the casket into the service, motioning for the attendees to stand in honor of the deceased. Regardless the tradition, make sure you know what is the typical protocol for that particular funeral home. Don’t assume all do it the same.
In future posts, I intend to deal with many of the other stages of preparation and performing funerals in a way that will hopefully serve those of you trying to think through this most important and inevitable aspect of pastoral ministry.