I am at the Virginia Funeral Directors' Association annual meeting right now. This is my sixth in a row. I'm not on duty at this one, but doing child care and seeing old friends. I also wanted to be sure to attend the memorial service they have annually that recognizes funeral directors and their close relatives who have died in the past year. In spite of the fact that this event garnered public snickering last week in Style Weekly's The Score, I wanted to be present.
I knew six people who would be remembered this year. I had been to some of their funerals but not all, so I wanted a chance to remember them and honor their lives. I also assumed the best about a service organized by the pros. So this afternoon I got my son dressed up, explained what the service would be like, and off we went.
And then, after less than thirty minutes, as the sermon began, we stood up, and left. That's a first for me. Rather than enumerate the choices made in this service that I found to be heartless and narrow-minded, I will speak in the positive and the general.
When doing public worship for a SECULAR professional organization with over fifty mourning family members of different religions (not to mention the dozens of friends and colleagues)...
1) Refrain from making those gathered affirm a particular denomination's beliefs through words or actions. (Gathered at the throne? One true word? Stand in affirmation of God's word? - oh wait. Not enumerating. Not enumerating.) Instead use language that connects people who have all come together for a common reason - loss of a loved one.
2) Close your prayers with inviting spiritual words that could be appreciated by people of a variety of religious backgrounds. Not everyone prays in Jesus' name. Not everyone believes in the holy spirit. Not everyone... oops, let me move on.
3) Offer variety in the service in music, readings, speakers that speaks to different ages, beliefs, genders.
4) Don't you ever dare call the god-as-you-know-it "Daddy" on behalf of all gathered and not expect to be openly ridiculed on the internet.
Oh, wait. That wasn't positive. So true, but not positive.
Preachers, at a public gathering - we aren't your church. We are not gathered for you. We aren't interested in how YOUR people do it. It is safer to assume that no one agrees with you and speak the truth as you know it carefully, with an open and humble heart. Those who confuse public ritual with a specific religion's worship alienate the very people for whom they were supposed to hold up meaning. This isn't your prophetic moment. When you get confused about this, you fail to do what you were called to do in the first place.
And leaders of secular organizations who let this sort of thing happen, appear to not care about their membership at large. As I was walking out I thought: I guess this organization is only for conservative American Christians of one denomination. That's ok. Just advertise the fact. Don't ambush people in pain at a service of remembrance.
Oh, and as for the guy in the exhibit hall using racial slurs in hearing range of everyone... yes, we all did hear you. Your advertising was in clear and garish neon.