Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The State of the Church: Six Feet Under?
The Chatham Interfaith Clergy met at the rectory yesterday, for our annual Epiphany “Scones, Sherry and Proper Tea.” It’s always a great time. I am blessed with wonderful sisters and brothers in the faith we share in the One God of Abraham and Sarah.
Our Roman Catholic brother brought us a brochure that had just arrived at his parish. I’m sure my copy is in the office mail. I’ll read it more carefully later on today.
The brochure is from a local funeral home, informing the reader that it was now a ‘Full Service Funeral Home.’ Not only do they care for your loved one with ‘professionalism’ and your family with ‘compassion’, they also offer concierge service – someone who can help you with everything from a caterer for the funeral repast to hotel accommodations for out of town guests.
They can do a DVD of pictures of your loved one which can be shown during calling / viewing hours. They will then help you take all the ‘actual’ pictures and post them on tastefully done poster boards and position them around the parlor where your loved one lies in state.
Their website will post pictures of your loved one along with the obituary and any personal messages from the family. When you visit the webpage, you can choose from a selection of “condolence cards” which you can personalize and send to the family (no stamps, no running to the CVS to get a card – amazing, right?)
They also offer bereavement services with a licensed social worker, including bereavement support services.
But, wait! There’s more!
The funeral home now offers ‘specially trained’ (doesn’t say where) and ‘certified’ (doesn’t say by whom) . . . ready for this? . . . ‘celebrants’.
These ‘celebrants’ will work with the family of the bereaved to develop a ‘meaningful liturgy’ and ‘significant ritual’ with a ‘personalized eulogy’.
As you can imagine, a very interesting conversation followed. We began by speculating on those who might use this new service . It’s not hard to imagine that for those who are not connected to a church community, this new ‘service’ would be a godsend.
Or, for those who have difficulties with the current or interim pastor, or don’t have a regular pastor.
Or, perhaps for those whose loved one died a death due to alcohol, drugs or the cause of, say, a vehicular homicide.
We weren’t sure how we really felt about it, though. Is this a good thing, really? Should it be viewed as ‘competition’? Is it a sign of the further decline of the relevance of religion in our increasingly secularized culture?
Or, is it a sign that there is a deep hunger for spiritual nourishment which is simply not being met, much less fulfilled, by organized religion?
Is this an indication of the failure of the church to be relevant in the lives of people?
Or is it, rather, an unfortunate reality of the isolation of our consumer-oriented culture?
For many years, a person has not needed to ‘belong’ to a religious community in order to get married. There are Justices of the Peace and Mayors of Towns who do a lovely job. Wedding Chapels, complete with flowers and music have been in existence for years.
Confirmation and Bat Mitzvahs as a ‘rite of passage’ have been supplemented – and in some cases replaced – by elaborate Sweet Sixteen Parties – for boys and girls.
Why does anyone need to be a member of a church or a temple in order to have a ‘meaningful’ funeral service?
Why, you can simply purchase the service you need, when you need it, where you want it.
What’s next? Will ‘naming ceremonies’ replace baptism?
Well, sisters and brothers, how are we feeling about this? What do you think?
Is this a good thing or a bad innovation? Is this a threat or a benefit to organized religion? An indication of failure or irrelevance of organized religion or is it simply a sign of the times?
Is this just a way for funeral homes to keep their business successful at the local level and avoid being bought up by large, national chains?
Our Clergy Group is inviting the Funeral Home to come to our meeting next month to tell us more about this service. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m feeling pretty ambivalent about it, as a matter of fact. I guess I just need to process the information a bit more, which is why I’d love to hear what you have to say.