My mother passed away a little over a month ago. The funeral service at Holy Trinity in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia was fitting, touching and emotional.
The question I asked in my eulogy then was, ‘How do you say ‘Goodbye’ to someone you have loved all your life?’
You don’t say goodbye.
Her life lives on in each of us. We remember her, we learn from her and we try to live our lives as she taught us how to live.
Instead we say, ‘Good Night’ ……………. and pray that we will be considered worthy to be with her one day in paradise.
After all the emotion of a funeral, it seems entirely appropriate to meet once again in a less emotional environment and give thanks to our Lord for the life of the person who brought you into this world, nurtured you and loved you everyday of their lives, no matter what you did or said.
There lies the seed for a Thanksgiving Service.
As with all events, the service needs to be structured and organised, so that the many aspects are brought together to create the whole. The prayers, the hymns (or songs), the eulogy and the sermon.
To get the ball rolling I visited with the Vicar of the Cathedral which I attend reasonably regularly on Sundays. I showed him the proposed model of the funeral service and he said he will send me, for my guidance, the Orders of similar services held in the recent past. 2 days passed and I had no news nor the service sheets from the Vicar. The 3rd day I called him and he promised once again to send the documents.
The 4th and 5th days brought me no joy and I proceeded to design my own version of the service sheet. Having done that, I sent it to the Vicar for his approval. I must have jogged his memory once too many times, as there was a reply to my email along with 3 new attachments (service sheets).
Dutifully, I went through them and made a couple of small adjustments to the service sheet I had proposed. I told him that I had incorporated what I thought fit from the documents he sent me and asked for his approval or amendments. The service sheet was 7 pages long, which meant that there was a blank page in an 8 page booklet. He suggested I add a couple of more prayers to fill up the page so that I got value for money.
I always thought prayers were supposed to come from the heart and not for economic reasons.
I added 2 more prayers and I finally got his approval to print.
In the meantime, I had to hire the church. The date was selected, the lady in the (church) office advised me the amounts due and I paid a deposit. She also told me that the Secretary (her boss) was on leave and therefore I should arrive with the balance when she returned from her temporary sojourn a few days later.
I returned to the office to settle accounts when the Secretary was back at work. As I entered, I found that the Secretary was not in her seat and I once again dealt with the lady of my prior acquaintance.
She then stammered out that I would have to pay a higher price for the hire of the church and the choir, since I was not a member of the church. The criterion was that they did not have a ‘yellow’ card for me at their office.
It was a hot day and I now felt the heat rising under my collar. Keeping myself under control, I asked her the following questions:
Me: If I wasn’t a member of the congregation, how did I know the Vicar to discuss the staging of the service, how did I know the Choir Master to arrange for their presence and participation, how did I know the Sacristan (Sexton) to arrange for the flowers to be bought and displayed and how could I have progressed to this point without someone raising any questions about where I came from.
The answer: But I don’t have a yellow card. So you are not a member of the congregation.
Me: In the 3 years that I had been attending the church, was there any occasion when the church informed us (congregation) that we needed to fill in a yellow card to get on the parish roll?
Answer: Not that I’m aware of
Me: Was there a drive to make sure that all members of the congregation were included in the parish roll
Answer: Not that I’m aware of
Me: Can I fill in a yellow card now and become official
Breakthrough. I completed the yellow card and paid the appropriate sum of money and got out of the office as quickly as I could to avoid an aneurysm.
The printer of the service sheet increased his fees at the time of collection and since it was not a significant amount, I let it pass and paid the higher amount.
I reconfirmed with the organist, her presence on the day of the service. She said she would need to take a taxi to travel on the day and asked whether I could pay for it. I agreed. I gave her an amount in excess of what she needed, she accepted it and then she told me that she was going to ask her son to bring her and take her back as she had suffered an injury of sorts and didn’t want to take a taxi. Perhaps the money I gave her for transport will pay for petrol for the son’s car and have some money left over for a small treat.
12 members of the choir have agreed to attend the service and they have agreed to perform a special item. I am thrilled.
The evening of the service arrives and I’m sitting with the priest who is officiating at the service.
He asks me, ‘Who selected these prayers?’
Me: ‘I did. Why is there something wrong?’
Priest: ‘No. Normally the priest conducting the service selects the prayers’
Me: ‘I sent all the information with hymns and prayers to the Vicar who sanctioned the printing of the service sheet. I naturally assumed he was in agreement with the selected prayers.’
Priest: ‘No it’s alright. I was just saying.’
Although it was pouring with rain outside, the vestry suddenly started becoming hot and sticky.
Priest: ‘How do you say this name?’ pointing to my mother’s name.
Fair question. I helped with the pronunciation. He practised it a couple of times. Let’s say it was “Mrs Brenda Martin” – not her real name.
The service commenced.
My mother’s name was to be mentioned a few times. Each time it came out as ‘Mrs Brenda’. Not ‘Mrs Martin’ or ‘Brenda’, but Mrs Brenda!
I writhed and squirmed in my seat. Was I suddenly starting to feel hot again?
It was described as a ‘lovely service’ by one and all.
Mission accomplished. It was a worthy tribute to my mother.
Does being religious demand seriousness, solemnity and no jokes?
This is the impression I get whenever I attend a place of worship or a gathering of worshippers. Since my experience has predominantly been that of the Christian church, I will refer to that more frequently than to other places of worship.
It appears to me that there is almost an expectation that the congregation in a church should be of a solemn disposition. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact it should be so, given the reverence with which we approach our worship. My problem is that this solemnity is taken to an extreme when natural tendencies of humans are subjugated. What this does is to give the impression that any expression of joy and laughter are frowned upon as not befitting the presence of our Lord. What we forget is that joy and laughter are indeed what we have been blessed with through our creation by the Lord.
I remember the time in my youth, when I used to attend church. My friend Dennis and I would sit together towards the back of the church. Isn’t that what Anglicans do anyway?
Now Dennis is an extremely funny person. I mean he has a great sense of humour and it is infectious. His comments on whatever was going on at that particular moment in time, invariably tickled my funny bones. It was a battle and a half, trying to contain my expression of it. In other words, I could barely hold back the laughter that would spontaneously erupt from me. My sniggering, which sounded extremely loud in the quiet confines of a church full of pious worshippers, was not appreciated. Rightly so. After all, who wants to be disturbed in their devotions by two silly uncontrolled youth who didn’t appear to have any regard and respect for the Lord?
Yet it was not a lack of respect for the Lord on our part. It was just happiness that was given to us by our Lord. If however our entire time in church was filled with uncontrolled sniggering, that would be a problem. But sporadic interruptions with expressions of joy I think should be welcome. Just as much as the sound of children’s laughter and playfulness, though sometimes disturbing, especially in the middle of a sermon, need to be enjoyed. In fact, such a diversion should be welcome if it does arrive, particularly in the middle of a boring delivery of a sermon. For it is never the subject of a sermon that is boring, but the delivery of it.
Our current disposition, has in fact led people away from church rather than drawing them closer. To some degree, the charismatic forms of service at some of the newer churches have tried to address this drawback. But I still find the tunes to be ‘less than joyful’. While they have tried to jazz things up, the only new thing appears to be the clapping.
My mind is frequently drawn to something Bill Cosby (that comedian who was much loved some years ago and is not so loved now) said as part of one of his shows.
When you look at people entering an ice cream parlour, there is generally a smile on their faces. There is an expectancy of joy that is evident in the way they talk and the way they walk. Their cares are far behind them and that cool sweet foretaste of the special flavour of ice cream is all that matters. Children may be skipping their way in whilst the adults are indulgent of their children’s misdemeanours and they themselves are looking forward to tasteful happiness in the immediate future.
On the other hand, if you look at people entering and exiting a health food shop. I am yet to see children skipping their way in. In fact, I hardly see children entering one of them. The adults go in as though they are afraid of being caught in the act of entering such an establishment. There is a solemnity inside that is stifling and even the helpers in these shops are serious when they extol the benefits of this pill or that powder. There is sombreness in the way your bill is handed over to you, along with the reverently packaged goods of pills and powders and roots. People exit these shops with a look that seems to say, ‘I’m trying to be healthier than you. But I’m not really looking forward to taking this stuff in this package!’
So what is the point?
People are happy when their expectations are of satisfaction rather than undertaking a turn of duty. That is to say that if people go to church because they feel it is their duty to do so, they become much like the customer in the health food shop. Alternatively, if they go to church with an expectation of experiencing joy and peace of mind and camaraderie and laughter in the presence of our Lord, then they become more like those skipping their way into the ice cream parlour.
Surely therefore, if we believe that being gathered together in the presence of our Lord is an experience to be savoured and enjoyed, then it is up to us to create that environment in the church.
As you approach the doors of the church, you hear the organ playing “Get me to the church on time.” You smile because you recognise the tune and it brings happy memories of a very enjoyable feel good film. The rhythm of the song gets into you. Your head starts nodding and your body starts bobbing, as you sway your way into your pew seat. You smile and greet your seat neighbour, who smiles whilst also nodding and bobbing. You strike up a conversation with your nodding and bobbing neighbour and say something like, “Isn’t this wonderful? It makes me feel so alive.” Your neighbour smiles and acknowledges saying, “Yes, it’s a refreshing change to listening to some doleful music. I love it.”
The mood is set and the church bells ring. There is a moment of silence. The organ, with all stops open introduces the hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.” The choir is full of voice and leads the rendition. The congregation is feeling good and joins in the singing with gusto. The church is filled with praises to God. That would surely get His ear. 3 verses, 4 verses and the congregation is awake and full of energy.
The priest reaches the altar, turns around to the congregation, raises his arms and proclaims, “Jesus Chist is risen.” The congregation bellows, “He is risen indeed.” The service is up and running. The people are in the ice cream parlour.
God is happy because we are happy. The stage is set for a period of wholesome worship.
So what is it to be?
Joyful expectancy in being gathered together to worship our Lord or the meek attendance at church, to satisfy a sense of duty?
The choice is ours.