Saturday, 4 November 2017

Opinion - 4 November 2017

Kelvin Holdsworth The Episcopal Way of Death

Mark Clavier Covenant ‘Time makes ancient truths uncouth’
“Reflections of a Former Theological Educator”

Lois Lee Church Times Take the beliefs of the non-religious seriously

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 11:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion
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"It is not the case, I think that most people come to this service thinking that they can somehow by praying for the dead in this way liberate them from hell or punishment or limbo..." - Holdsworth

Am I so very old-fashioned then, because that is why I pray for the dead? If it isn't, then what is the purpose of a funeral service?

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 5 November 2017 at 2:01am GMT

That, Kate, is a very good question. My experience FWIW is that people come to funerals (a) to deal with their own issues, and (b) to support the bereaved. End of. If they have a belief in an afterlife - IF - it's not one that can be influenced by a few mutterings in a church or by a graveside. That may not be the view of many churchgoers, but then they are increasingly few and far between.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse on Sunday, 5 November 2017 at 7:32pm GMT

An old Australian Episcopalian, I do not believe in hell or limbo or punishment after death and have my doubts about heaven regarding which I remain agnostic - i.e. I do not know or can imagine anything about it - we see only in part and "through a glass darkly" . However, whether there is a heaven or not would change how I live - and it is not easy to make any sense of it, or to imagine a heaven that is more wonderful and marvellous and making more sense than this world, despite all the suffering of humans and other sentient beings suffered for millennia.

I don't meet many people (hospital patients, for example) who are worrying about getting "saved" and getting to heaven. Only 2 patients of about 24,000 have asked me about that in the last 19 years or so (though a few have expressed fear of death and more have simply wanted to die). But, however illogically, I do keep All Souls' Day - which meant more to the people of my old parish than All Saints' Day itself, and again, last week, celebrated here with a few friends at home a simple, BCP-based Requiem Mass. (Neither All Saints' nor any other festival apart from Christmas and Easter is celebrated in the great majority of Sydney churches). That service and my regular prayers for my parents and family members and so many others whom one has "loved but see no longer", and when possible great old hymns such as "Jesu, Son of Mary", simply express before God my continuing love for them as do, I guess, one's prayers for some of those living, and a continuing thankfulness "for what we have received". And the good Lord can make of those prayers what he will.

Posted by: John Bunyan on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 6:38am GMT

Alas - the word "Funeral" very rarely appears nowadays on the front cover of an Order of Funeral Service. It is more likely to be "A Celebration of the Life of ......"
Perhaps this is one reason why more and more are opting for secular "Celebrants" to officiate at the ceremonies rather than Christian ministers. However, in my limited experience of attending such celebrations - there is an awful lot of looking back but the aspect of looking forward is non existent which rather limits the element of celebration.

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 6:48am GMT

Father David -

Why are you putting the word "celebrant" in inverted commas. It is as patronising as people who put gay "marriage" in them.

I am a properly trained civil celebrant who takes a lot of funeral ceremonies. My role is to preside at the ceremony, and the content is shaped entirely by the wishes of my client. So it may be entirely non-religious, or it may have religious music, hymns, readings or prayers included. It is usually shaped around telling the story of the life of the deceased, but elements of future hope may be in there. Or they may not.

Civil Funerals are not always massively celebratory. Sometimes they are sombre. Sometimes they are difficult. Sometimes the story is a very sad one, and the client (usually the next of kin) wants the story honestly told. My watchword is to be as honest as people want, but also kind. I like to remember the essential mystery of every human person.

So don't paint all celebrants as facile purveyors of false cheerfulness. Civil celebrants are a very varied lot - from those who would happily sit with the British Humanist Association, who will not use any religious content at all, to many who are personally Christian, and whose motivation is in large part a compassionate response to their neighbour's need. There are a surprising number of clergy or ex-clergy in their ranks, and for some of us, this is most definitely a ministry.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 12:33pm GMT

I have always been taught that one shouldn't pray for the dead, because their fate is already decided. Nor do I see any precedent in the Bible for such prayers, but I might be overlooking something. I'd be genuinely grateful if someone could explain to me the reasoning behind this practice?

I have always seen funerals as an honouring of the deceased and committal of them into God's hands. Of course in reality they will have been in God's hands since their death, but it's necessary for the bereaved to participate in a personal and communal letting go. It's a very important part of the process of fully realising the death and moving on. I know on the occasions I haven't been able to be present at a loved one's funeral, it's been much more difficult to deal with their death emotionally and psychologically.

I like the old phrase 'to pay one's last respects' to the deceased. When taking a funeral I do that to the best of my ability. I talk about God's love for the person who has died and for those left behind. They can take comfort from the fact that God's love is eternal and underneath are the everlasting arms. I may talk a little about the grieving process. On a number of occasions I've had people start attending church after a funeral, so I hope it's doing some good.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 2:55pm GMT

Sorry Jeremy I am completely befuddled. Yes I have a healthy respect for all who officiate at a funeral. I am sure they do so from a genuine care for people.
But what is the difference between a funeral service conducted by a priest, retired or otherwise, and a civil funeral ?

A relative of mine has been a pastor in the free bretheren, and has officiated at very many funerals of members of their congregation, and a wide circle of members of the community. Taken with dignity, and sincerity. Respected by all over the many years of his ministry.
What has always annoyed me in the various parts of the country I have served, are those retired clergy who appear to hang about the crematorium, and always available to take a funeral service, without knowing anything about the family. But happily picking up the fee.
Hopefully this happens less nowadays.

My main concern was to know the family , and the various motives working within the relatives; and help them to be able to commend their loved one to their Creator, and find support in their own varying grief.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E Harris-White on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 3:04pm GMT

"I have always been taught that one shouldn't pray for the dead, because their fate is already decided."
@Janet Fife

I would guess that following that logic we shouldn't pray for anything or anybody because God already knows what we/they need (and everything else besides).

Perhaps it's only from our non-eternal perspective that everything is decided when someone dies. God's perspective might be different. It is, after all, a little arrogant of us to assume that we know God has already decided someone's fate.

Is perhaps praying is more building a relationship with God than reciting a list of things we want God to do?

Might Romans 8:26-28 might shine some light here?


"Nor do I see any precedent in the Bible for such prayers, but I might be overlooking something""

Not everything Christians do (even Reformed ones) has (or needs justifying with) a precedent in the Bible, though you could try 2 Maccabees 12:38ff. If you have a really Protestant Bible you may be out of luck there though.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 4:55pm GMT

This is one of those fascinating debates where I find myself agreeing with everyone, even those who disagree with each other.
I agree with Jeremy that we need to be guided profoundly by the needs and wishes of the family; I also agree with Kelvin in his original contention (and expanded in comments on his website) that there is a core part of our offering to those families that should be held to if at all possible.
I agree that many, perhaps most, Celebrants perform a wonderful service, and given the availability of that option, I find it a real privilege that so many still come to us in the Church and ask us to take the funeral. Is there something distinctive about a Christian funeral, and particularly, an Anglican/Episcopalian one, that is not normally available in a "secular" ceremony? (Jeremy, I use quote marks there to acknowledge that many such services are very religious in their content.)
Yes, I think we do offer something special, and for me it is exemplified in the words of the Commendation. While we never talk of funerals being a Sacrament, I see a quasi-sacramental function in acknowledging that the person's life as we know it has ceased, and sending them on their journey to heaven? to the unknown? to eternity? who knows? but ultimately to God.
Among all the options in our prayer books, I will almost never omit the chance to say:
God alone is holy and just and good.
In that confidence therefore, we commend you N
to God's judgement and mercy
to God's forgiveness and love.
Blessed be God the Father
who has caused the light of Christ to shine upon you.
Go forth from this world:
in the love of God the Father who created you
in the mercy of Jesus Christ who redeemed you
in the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you.
In communion with all the faithful,
may you dwell this day in peace.

IMHO, these words, or their equivalent, are the essence of a Christian funeral.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 9:04pm GMT

Jeremy, I note that you don't put the words "facile purveyors of false cheerfulness" in inverted commas? Why? because that is a gross misrepresentation of what I was expressing. I wrote nothing about "cheerfulness" nor indeed sadness in the contrast I was making between the life that is past and the absence of future hope.

Posted by: Father David on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 7:58am GMT

Fr. Andrew, you make a good point about our non-eternal perspective and God already knowing the outcome. I can see how that would work in praying for the dead.

However, we are still inside time, even though God and the deceased are not. For those who have died, time is now over; and all the decisions, attitudes and actions which might influence their eternal destiny already made, For that reason I would still prefer not to pray for the dead.

When working in churches with a tradition of praying for the dead, I have always introduced the prayers with something like the following: 'We pray for those remembering the following/ commemorating the anniversary of/thanking God for the lives of...'

Everyone seems to have been happy with that approach.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 5:11pm GMT

Yes Janet, for the departed time is now over, though not for God because he has never been subject to it. It is him to whom we are praying. There must surely be a sense that though we are bound and limited, we are not praying to someone who is so restricted.

Time ending is not the same as eternity. And I’m not sure I could confidently say that a person’s eternal destiny is decided precisely at the point of their death. When Lazarus died the first time, had time ended for him and judgement come? Or the son of the widow of Nain? Or the child of the Shunammite?

If all times are equally present to God and if our prayers can be answered by God (say, prayers for healing when a person is alive) I can’t see why praying for someone one minute, three days or a thousand years after their deaths is a waste of breath. Or are we saying we can pray for God to send rain, give us his protection, heal our sick relatives but not to give a merciful judgement to our departed sisters and brothers? Are we suggesting that God must be subject to rules of time as we are?

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 9:41pm GMT

Just popping my polemical hat on, I might add that if one thinks praying for the dead is ineffective, the inexorable logical conclusion is that all prayer is.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 9:45pm GMT

I often commend the departed to God's gracious keeping....sometimes adding that in them His will may be fulfilled...and that we join out prayers with the prayers of the Saints and all God's people living and departed....don't think there is anything un C of E in that.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 10:37pm GMT

Fr. Andrew, I can see your point, but personally I wouldn't be comfortable with it. God has placed us within time, for this life, and I see it as my calling to pray of those who are also within time. There's more than enough of that to keep me occupied!

I'm reminded of G.K. Chesterton's comment that limitations are necessary, and without them we couldn't create poetry (he put it so much better than that, of course).

However I do often think of the departed with gratitude (or concern) while consciously spending time with God (again, I've put that very clumsily), and that may be not so different from what you are describing.

BTW I do have 2 Bibles with the Apocrypha included, and have read them. I particularly like the book of Judith - but then I would. And I have often quoted 2 Esdras, 'women are strongest, but truth conquers all.' ;-)

Posted by: Janet Fife on Wednesday, 8 November 2017 at 9:18am GMT

Meant of course UN Church of England....

[Ed: this has now been corrected in the earlier comment]

Posted by: Perry Butler on Wednesday, 8 November 2017 at 1:21pm GMT

Re Kelvin Holdsworth, "Death is simple. It shows us the complexity of life." Exactly right.

I have been waffling for the past week on whether to post on this. Here goes.

My 96 year old mother died late in 2016. She struggled with a dementia for the last decade of her life, so remembering her in conjunction with our roots was important.

She was a life long devout Roman Catholic and her mass of Christian burial took place in her parish on the same glebe where she, and we, attended Catholic school.

At the offering the gifts of the people were brought forward by one of my siblings and my daughter who is an Anglican priest. The former, my sibling, is divorced remarried and a devout Catholic, the only one of the four of us who remained actively R.C.

At Holy Communion, there was neither prohibition nor invitation. Conscience was our guide. Those who received included my daughter the priest, my son the Anglican parish warden, my wife and I.

The congregation included one of my mother's peers, members of her parish, and three of my fellow Anglican priests in clerical garb ( two of them female) who came out to support us.

WE all sang the hymns which included Ave Maria (Latin text) and Immaculate Mary, which I had not heard since grade school.

There we were, the church in its brokenness, the church as community and communion. Our Anglican All Souls collect says, "we pray for those we love but see no longer." Rome speaks of "our intercessors in heaven". Both are sage.

A few weeks ago I received a letter addressed to The Rev. Canon Rod Gillis inviting me as family to an All Souls mass. My mother and others who died the past year would be remembered.

Maybe its a Scottish ( heritage) thing; but Holdsworth article speaks an existential truth.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 8 November 2017 at 11:30pm GMT
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