In the last few years a significant aspect of my ministry has been working with families who are "outside" the church, and who request the help of a minister with a funeral. I am grateful for good working relationships with a number of very sensitive and ethical funeral directors, with whom I share a desire to help families.
I meet a lot of people who are leery of organized religion. Sometimes it is because they have had no experience of church. More often it is because they have had negative experiences of church. As a United Church of Canada minister, I have the somewhat dubious, but occasionally helpful distinction of being seen as "not too religious"!
This past week I was asked to help with a memorial service for a man who had died in his early sixties of lung cancer. The family had met with another minister and decided not to work with him, largely because he came into the meeting with his plan for the service already laid out. The family did not experience much "room" for them in the planning process.
What I often find when I work with families is that they are quite open to hearing my ideas, and my beliefs, if I have first taken the time to hear them out, and get a sense of their ideas, needs, and beliefs. It also helps if I can show them that I am not attempting use the "opportunity' of a vulnerable time to push a particular agenda. (Like getting them "saved".)
Most families are looking for care, for comfort, and for hope. Of the many families who have requested "something not so religious", I can recall only two situations in which the family was totally opposed to there being prayers, scripture, readings, or a sermon in the funeral service. Most of the time, it seems, that the concern is around style and tone rather than content.
People do not want to get beat up with a Bible.
I was thinking about all this on Sunday, as we sang "Amazing Grace". This hymn is often picked to be played at "non-religious" funerals.
I think this makes a lot of sense. When people are in grief, and when they are planning to gather their loved ones together for a funeral, they are often, perhaps unconsciously, seeking grace rather than religion, and hope rather than shame.