An American Funeral
Today, on the hottest day of the summer so far (31 degrees C) I donned my clerical robes to do a funeral here. I wouldn't normally be so insensitive as to blog about a funeral... But I got the permission of the immediate family in this case. The deceased was a lady called Edna Seamons, born Edna Earl Wilhite in Meridian Missisippi in 1925. She had been seriously ill for over 10 years and hadn't been out much, so that, combined with a break up in the family meant that it was a relatively small funeral. But it was a real celebration of her life and it was genuinely a privelege to take part in it. Thankfully I didn't have to do the main address as the family asked the chaplain of the local hospice, Steve Shick, to do that, as he had built up a good rapport with Edna over a prolonged period.
It is strange how these things work out, but here I am in Michigan doing a funeral today, and my exchange partner in Dundonald will be doing one tomorrow. And I am sure he will notice many similarities and differences.
Here we sang hymns that are funeral favourites on the other side of the Atlantic (How great thou art, Trust and Obey and Amazing Grace), the range of readings were familiar, and they even put on refreshments for the mourners just like they do in my home church... although here it was turkey, ham and cheese subs, with potato salad, dill pickles and numerous forms of sticky cake, rather than the sandwiches with the crusts cut off and tray bakes that is the usual menu of our wonderful team back home.
The big difference however was in the presentation of the deceased before the service, because when I went into the vestibule/hallway (or narthex as they refer to it here), there was Edna in all her glory, propped up on quilted pillows in her ornate, 18 gauge steel casket. If funerals at home involved such coffins, there is no way that anyone would get them up the steps at the front of Dundonald Methodist.
The family were a wee bit anxious that I might find their particular circumstances unusual. They had certainly been through some tough times, and had joked in the service about getting everyone to sign off on the rights to Edna's life so that they could turn it into a daytime TV movie. And actually, there could even be a sequel, because they discovered after the service that Edna's closest sister had had a daughter whom she had to give up for adoption, and had never told the rest of the family about. But the daughter came to pay her respects along with her adoptive Mum. So Edna's family began the day having lost a mother and grandmother and ended it having gained a cousin.
But as I tried to say to them, their particular family circumstances are unique but not unusual. Every family has its problems. Its hurts. Its joys. Its black sheep. Its skeletons in closets. And those who have come out of the closet. Doesn't matter whether they are American or Northern Irish. A bereaved family is a bereaved family. And it is my privilege as a pastor to be invited to come alongside such families (with all their quirks) and hopefully help them a little way along their journey.
In this case the journey for Edna's family continues down to Meridian Missisippi for he interment on Saturday. May God bless them on that roadtrip and wherever they go from there...