Thursday, August 20, 2009

Collegiality, Candles, and Funerals

Well, I just completed my first not-someone-I-knew memorial service.

Thanks to the generous sharing of materials, emails, phone calls and metaphorical handholding from some special UU ministers and other seminarians, I was prepared. I really got to experience clerical collegiality -- not that I'm a colleague yet, but they treated me as an incipient colleague. I felt nurtured.

When you are pregnant for the first time, a common concern is about who is going to see you give birth. But when it's actually time for that baby to be born, I've explained to many about-to-be new moms, you won't care if the janitor is in there. There's just other things you'll be concentrating on.

In a similar way, when I expressed concern that I would cry out of empathy, most everyone I talked to said, "Well, maybe. But probably not. There's just other things you'll be concentrating on."

And so it was.

I was at another church in town, not my own, and I'd forgotten that they have no clocks anywhere. Not in the sanctuary, not in the fellowship area. Note to self: get a new battery in one of the million of watches you've sucked dry.

You know how in cop movies, there'll be a scene where the officer yanks some innocent schmoe out of their car, hollering, "Official Police Business, I have to commandeer your car!"? Well, I did that, ripping the watch off the church administrator's arm. I hope her stitches heal soon.

The deceased was a beloved person, the kind of man who makes you envious of the people who knew him. He was beloved. Way more people showed up than anticipated. We added chairs behind the pews. We added chairs outside the sanctuary. Finally I went forward, spoke some nice words about how beloved he was, then raised my arms like Charlton Heston parting the red sea and asked everyone to slide to the ends of the pews to make more room.

Note to self: when you hear that the deceased was a popular member of a retirement community, add 50% to the number of anticipated attendees.

The family wanted to do the thing where people are invited to come forward, light a candle and share a memory. The first person, an old man with trembling hands, pulled some paper notes from his pocket.

Paper notes. Candles.

I am happy to say that no one caught fire.

Note to self: position the microphone and the sandbox of candles in such a way that the speaker will light a candle, then walk over to the microphone. Far, far away from the candles.

(I was prepared, as I watched carefully the drooping pages, to yank any burning pages away, stomp them out, and say a little sumpin' about how the deceased had a great sense of humor and he would have loved that.)

But it all went swimmingly. It is such a privilege, to be able to step in at a fragile time, and help a family celebrate the life of the person they loved, and start their own path towards healing.

I just feel so honored . It wasn't about me, I was merely the coordinator for letting in the Holy. But what a honor that is.


ms. kitty said...

Yep, you dun good, kid. You know what's important and you act on it. It truly is an honor and a privilege to conduct a memorial service, especially when the memorialee is such a loved person.

Earthbound Spirit said...

It sounds like it was a perfect - and perfectly appropriate - service. (I'll have to remember the Charlton Heston move...)

Ms. Theologian said...

It sounds perfect. Also, glad no one caught fire. I did my grandma's memorial service in a retirement community, and it was HUGE. I had no idea.

(Just FYI, on a separate note, I did care who saw me give birth at the time).