By Donna Nichols
Death happens – often at the most inopportune times - and no pastor would deny that caring for the dying and the grieving is at one and the same time both hard work and sacred privilege.
In “A Pastor’s Practical Guide to Funerals: Offering Help, Assurance, and Hope” - author Lee Franklin, a hospice chaplain and ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) presents a thorough guide to pastoral care of the dying and the bereaved. The book contains many complex and interrelated processes that are integral to proper care. None of the processes of grief care presented by Franklin are unimportant.
Franklin’s book offers chapters on Preparing for Death; Caring through Anticipated Death; Caring through Sudden Death; Meeting with Family before the Funeral Service; Creating the Funeral Service; Creating the Funeral Sermon; and an impressive chapter about Following up with Grievers.
The stated purpose of the book is to offer ways to assist the pastor in providing “a ministry of presence and hope before, during, and after the funeral.” Franklin’s work succeeded in that purpose as well as affirming that ministering through the funeral is one of the great privileges of ministry.
The book is systematically laid out and is indeed a “practical” guide even as it is thoroughly and deeply theological. She develops scenarios of pastoral care in a well-reasoned progression of “story-centered” topics, all of them intersecting with the various ways grieving persons experience the presence (or seeming absence) of God.
One of the things that impressed me is the way Franklin consistently uses “story.” Her guide is entirely story-centered as it unfolds in many examples of the intersections of five stories that are heard throughout the death and funeral and follow-up care. There is, of course, God’s story of loving presence and future hope as well as stories of the dying or the deceased; stories of the grievers most impacted by the death; the congregation’s stories; and the pastor’s story as he or she engages in helping others with meaning making throughout the process of dying, death, funeral/memorial and follow-up care.
As pastors, our story usually intersects with all of the other stories; therefore, Franklin rightfully points out “it is important to come to grips with our own death experiences or lack thereof and how we cope or haven’t coped with them.”
Pastors who are desiring to be better companions to others in their grief, will get in touch with their own stories of grief.
Frankiln provides numerous examples of caring pastoral interactions with the dying and bereaved in a broad spectrum of situations from preparing people for an expected imminent death to caring for those bereaved by unexpected sudden deaths from most prevalent causes. Examples range from pastoral care of a couple whose infant was stillborn, those grieving loss of a loved one to suicide, and other tragic losses.
She advises pastors: “If you want to affect the faith of your community, and if you want to bring God’s good word to a hurting world, you will plan out funeral services with care and love.” The three chapters on ministry through the funeral are central and helpful for following this advice.
Franklin concludes the book by stating: “By manifesting God’s loving presence and hope, the pastor has the holy task of companioning grievers as they make meaning of this death event and construct their own next chapters of their life stories beckoned by God’s hope and held in God’s love.”
“Beckoned by God’s hope and held in God’s love” – is that not the very place to which we pastor’s want to lead not only the dying and the bereaved but also all of those to whom God sends us?
A Pastor’s Practical Guide to Funerals can be purchased from Abingdon Press at www.abingdonpress.com.