Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Personal Regret in Pastoring:

In the ministry and for a time in the Emergency Medical Tech experience, I have seen my share of death.  From the call that  a member had died and could I come over, or a child had been killed,   to showing up and making every effort to save a teen who didn't understand how a revolver worked and playing Russian roulette as a joke in front of the family was not a good idea., I am familiar with the chaos and grief such events can cause in the moment and long after the funeral.

 I have been with church friends as they drew their last breath and sat quietly as everyone in the family went ballistic with grief and shock. I've dug graves on private farms for private burials as long as it was done with a 24 hour time frame doing a private service on the front lawn out in the countryside. I've erased the muddy hand prints of a child who was finally found in a muddy rain filled swimming pool as the sight may just have proven too much for all concerned.  Lots of stories and lots of experience with death as we know comes to all in one way or another.

It's not being dead that most are concerned about but rather how we got dead that seems to take up our anxieties.

But in every case, and as the Pastor, death lead to a funeral service and while not unique, the Worldwide Church of God and I suspect splinter funeral services for the member left me of late realizing  a great regret I have in my part doing church funerals.

The Church funeral was all about the resurrections, "each man in his own order" as I recall.  It was a reminder we all die but that there is hope with all the associated scriptures to be read leading up to the Wonderful World Tomorrow.  Fair enough I suppose.  I have had to on occasion share a service with a local Baptist minister who basically went bonkers for Jesus and used his time to evangelize the audience and tell them their day is coming too just like Mr/Mrs/Ms ____________.  Some shared services were hilarious to watch my counterpart bounce around doing his thing and some were enraging or just plain stupid.

But there was one element in a Church of God service, and from the other pastor's as well,  that for many reasons I suppose, I failed to include in the service and for which I am deeply sorry and surprised at myself for not catching on to the problem ever back in the day.

I never actually offered a eulogy for the actual person. (a moment of praise and recognition of the life of the deceased).

 I never spoke of them, their lives, struggles, family and fun times.  I never told the audience my own positive recollections of the person or spoke fondly of them as I should have and could have. I never asked any family members to participate in the service with their own positive and even humorous stories about the deceased.  Never a son or daughter was given time to publicly appreciate their now having died father, mother, brother or sister.   The Church canned funeral service had no place for it and I simply never thought to include such a tribute , as I should have and as we all should have, to the deceased member.  And I deeply regret that.

I changed the wedding ceremony in pretty short order after ordination.  Why did I not change the funeral service?  I hated the "animals reproduce but animals don't marry" BS in the service so I cut that out. I stopped asking "who gives this woman" as it was a throwback to the times when the father passed ownership of the daughter to the next man.  Why did I not make the funeral service more of a celebration of the life of the person along with the hope of scripture?  I don't know. I am deeply sorry I did not and I guess hindsight and having now been simply in the audience at a funeral seeing how others are done has enlightened me.  Too late for all those whose funerals I did  and for that I have my regrets.

Perhaps subconsciously, "the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth" (Ecc 7:1).was in there somewhere so no sense talking about their actual life.  Perhaps it was that they are fine now and we'll see them in the Kingdom but there are living humans staring at you so tell them "the truth" about the resurrections and the Kingdom of God.  Frankly, I don't know what it was but it was wrong and an inappropriate format for a funeral that should have both comforted and encouraged the surviving friends and families. At least it should have also included it and not just in passing.

I'd encourage any lurking pastor in any of the splinters to defy tradition and include a genuinely sincere eulogy for the actual life and positive contribution made in that life of the sincere member who paid your salary, sacrificed their time for the church, forsook a few things they needn't have and kept their the faith you delivered unto them no matter how difficult or even ridiculous, as with the Gospel of Dave Pack or The Gospel According to Gerald Flurry, it all was for them loyally waiting for your fairy tales to come true before they actually died as you will too.  Honor to honor at least, please.  Every person deserves to have their lives noticed and appreciated for what it was and who they got to be in it.  

As the Forrest Gump of the Worldwide Church of God...I have this regret and "that's all I'm going to say about that..."


Kevin McMillen said...

Awesome post Dennis!

Kevin McMillen

Anonymous said...

I attended Rod Meredith's funeral and found it very personal. Some of it was perhaps naive or whitewashed, but the memorial certainly presented Rod in the best possible light as someone who had persevered through setbacks with tremendous drive, who had endured the pain of marital loss twice, who had spent his final few years striving to remain productive despite serious medical troubles from his first stroke to his last day of cancer.

I can think of several other ACOG funerals at which the officiant presented an affectionate and affirming review of the deceased person's life. Sure, I have also seen pastors for whom a funeral is another chance to rehearse doctrine for the survivors, but I would suggest that this becomes less and less likely based on how well the officiant knew the deceased. If the family of the deceased arranges to have a "leading" minister do the service, it is much more likely to become a mini-Sabbath-service than if the family has their closest ordained friend or acquaintance give the eulogy. Of course, in the larger WCG congregations, the local pastor couldn't talk knowledgeably from the heart about everyone in the congregation, so I understand how some funerals naturally turned out as Dennis described.

SHT said...

You said:

" I never spoke of them, their lives, struggles, family and fun times. I never told the audience my own positive recollections of the person or spoke fondly of them as I should have and could have. I never asked any family members to participate in the service with their own positive and even humorous stories about the deceased. Never a son or daughter was given time to publicly appreciate their now having died father, mother, brother or sister. The Church canned funeral service had no place for it and I simply never thought to include such a tribute , as I should have and as we all should have, to the deceased member. And I deeply regret that."

Thank you for sharing your honest feelings. I am quite certain (but cannot prove) that this was common within the COG Ministry, and I am also sure those you officiated did not hold this against you. You did the best you could, of that I am quite certain. I'd say more but I'm in the middle of an awful sneezing fit right now..... Glad to listen to ya. I'm sure anyone who reads this would understand and reassure you.

TLA said...

Maybe this is why some choose to have memorial services the group as a whole. Show pictures of a life well lived and loved.
Enjoy your openness Dennis - almost all COG ministers never admit error - especially specific errors.

Al Dexter said...

I only officiated one funeral right at the end of my abortive time as ministerial assistant in New York. Carlton Smith was in Pasadena at the yearly conference where they decided to bring me back to headquarters. Carleton noticed and didn't appreciate the fact that my service deviated a bit from the canned one sent from headquarters. Even then, I was just a little bit of the maverick. It kept me from ordination, and for that I will be eternally grateful Who can say what a hypocritical ass I might have become as I scrambled to keep my privileged position at any and all cost. Apparently, my old friend, Richard Pinelli, didn't fare as well in that regard from what I deduce. Power and position can really corrupt.

I did a few after I got an interfaith ordination in 1997, but I soon quit that except for helping out family once in awhile. It's not easy to tread the fine lines of what people expect to hear and what you can in good conscience convey. Weddings are much easier and I've done a few hundred of them as well as same sex unions. My wedding ceremony is humanist, even though it incorporates I Cor. 13. Love is fine in my world. Obedience to the king-like husband is not and is never included.

Glenn said...

Good post, Dennis. It always bothered me that the standard wcg funeral service was strange and tone deaf. I remember attending one wcg funeral where the deceased's name was barely mentioned.

nck said...

I wonder about Joe Tkach jr's eulogy officiating at Stanley Rader's funeral.
"He was a close and trusted friend of the family", making us millionaires.........

In general I love it when a final attempt is made to preach someone into heaven.
Some French funerals are great too with the mistresses snickering next to the main lady.
I would have hated to have been Ivanka at the McCain clan funeral, one would need iron mental capabilities for that.


jim said...

The purpose of the funeral messages in the WCG often surrounded more on teaching/reteaching the resurrections to the members and visitors that attended than honoring the deceased or comforting the family.

Al Dexter said...

Fact is, like everything else in WCG, it was propaganda time. The individual didn't matter in life. Even less in death.

Brian said...

Yes - I’ve attended several funerals where ministers from different churches spoke. It was always uncomfortable because neither minister seemed to know or speak about the deceased; mostly just dueling theologies (and usually somewhat confrontational to different believers).

R.L. said...

UCG seems to have largely thrown away the "script" when it comes to funerals. People are allowed to come forward and offer their memories of the deceased. Ministers offer their own personal reflections as well. And there's more music (usually the deceased's choice) mixed into the service.

Byker Bob said...

I refuse to go to Armstrongite funerals, even those involving family members still in the church. The damned things are just one more last ditch commercial for Herbie and his false teachings and prophecies. Back in the '70s, my brothers and I made a pact that we would not allow each others' bodies to fall under the control of our parents, or to be used for Armstrongish purposes or funerals.


Anonymous said...

So BB, how do you explain Rev. 20 which mentions a "first resurrection" with them living and reigning with Christ for 1,000 years and the the "rest of the dead" living again at the end of the thousand years when the books are opened and the book of life is once again opened?

If the first resurrection were all the names in the book of life, why is it opened again at the end of the thousand years?

Is this all metaphorical? Symbolic? Sure sounds literal to me.

SDA's claim the book of life is opened just to prove that their names aren't written in it. Why? Does God have to prove anything to anyone?

HWA was a jerk, with an ego the size of the universe, but that doesn't mean that everything that the WCG taught was wrong. After all none of it was original, everything HWA taught was taught by others before him. Just because he taught something doesn't automatically make it wrong. Worthy of questioning yes, wrong not necessarily.

nck said...


It's a shame your dead body is not to be used for marketing purposes. Perhaps some parts for a person who might need the parts?

Anyway I would love to see you walk Ina funeral in full 'hells angels' regalia, bringing the family of the deceased to believe the angels of hell have come down to fetch the deceased.

Best would have been if your buddies would have provided an escort for the Herbert w Armstrong motorcade, wearing black t shirts, "hells angels for Herbert".

Man, I see so many opportunities for you to participate.


Byker Bob said...

We got close to that one time, nck. The mother of some fellow bikers passed away, and her survivors asked us to ride our bikes to the funeral. We all stood at the back of the church as a group. I have no idea what the non motorcycling family might have thought of us, but the Reverend walked right up to us after the service, wanted to shake our hands. He told us that in years past, he used to ride.


Byker Bob said...

I don’t know, 7:57. If you’ve ever studied the canonization history, you realize that Revelation barely made it in, and various of the Antenicene fathers considered it to be extremely dubious in value, if not totally inauthentic.

I always found it curious that after the life and death of Jesus as the suffering Messiah, Revelation suddenly reverses that and turns Him back into an angry warrior-God.

I believe that Revelation is Jewish apocalyptic literature, probably not even written about our own era, even though it does seem to specifically describe the current process of global climate change. But, that also fails to provide a direct parallel, because the process appears to be supernaturally induced, and not anthropogenic.


Anonymous said...

BB, fair enough.

Anonymous said...

My recollection of funerals in the WCG, which were often due to someone dying without medical attention, often focused on the unconverted relatives attending the funeral. Understandably, these relatives were often hostile and upset.

Being tone-deaf as members were and so smug in knowing God's 'truth', their after-funeral discussions were often about how they handled these difficult relatives.

Which leads me up to the last funeral I attended in the WCG for a close family member. At that time, I was no longer in the WCG but family members were. I must have been quite the topic of conversation because these so-called church members were coming up to me at the funeral, muttering extremely hateful comments to me - despite my not initiating any conversation with them. And some of them I didn't know all that well.

When you are part of the ACOGs, there are no boundaries between your family and the 'church'. No one thinks about the total inappropriateness of their behavior. No one thinks that it is a personal family matter and none of their business. You can't even go to a damn family funeral without being attacked.

nck said...

The WCG funerals I attended were mostly car accidents, (slamming into deer) or Feast related, (car or excitement).

The Amish have a point.