Although there isn’t a substitute for actually conducting a funeral yourself, it is possible to be better prepared to have those conversations that will make for a better memorial and graveside service. Like many things in pastoral ministry, after struggling to figure out how to do something as a new pastor, I figured out a way that worked for me and then standardized a format that made my “system” repeatable.
After being contacted by a church member or someone who has lost a loved one, it is best to set a day and time as soon as possible to meet together to talk about planning their service(s). Because most people have been to a funeral, we can assume that they might have some idea about how they would want the service of their loved one to be ordered. That assumption is almost 99% incorrect. Most people have no idea how a service should be ordered, what elements they might want to include, who they want to speak, or even how long they want the service to be.
We obviously think about the need for comfort as a part of ministering to those who are mourning, but part of bringing comfort is helping the loved ones walk through a very confusing and difficult time by leading and guiding them through a very scary and unfamiliar process.
I developed my Funeral Service Planner as a way of walking through the typical services that people desire for a funeral, including a viewing/wake, memorial service, and graveside service. I not only ask about the particular elements that the family might want, but I also mark the order of each element in the service as well as which family members will be involved. The lines to the right are for names of those involved, including the pastor, if desired. The short lines to the left of service elements are to place a number for the order of the element when it will occur in the service.
Viewings or wakes are normally connected to Roman Catholicism, but sometimes they are conducted by a family of different faiths. If no priest will be present, then a Protestant pastor might be looked at as one who should do something. If this is the case, you might want to choose some passages of Scripture to read and pray. The rest of the time can be left for family to mourn together and if the casket is open, for them to say their goodbyes.
The last element, “full burial” follows the graveside service. Some families opt to wait until the casket is lowered and the vault (a concrete protective box) is placed over the casket, and then the whole thing is covered by dirt. In many funeral services, this is done for an extra fee and must be pre-arranged. If this occurs, it extends the time at the cemetery, and can be somewhat traumatic for the family to watch because it involves heavy machinery pounding down the ground to compact the soil. It would be best to know this so the family will be aware of the extra cost and what happens.
My form looks like this:
Funeral Service Planner
Decedent’s Full Name:__________________________________ Age:______ Saved? ____
Viewing/ Wake? Date, Time and Location: ______________________________________
Officiating? ____________________________________ Scripture Reading ____________________________________
Other elements? ____________________________________
Memorial Service Date, Time and Location:_________________________________________
Suggested Order of Service (Length of Service? _________)
___Scripture Reading _________________________
___Eulogy- Writing _____________________ Reading _________________________
___Video Presentation/Slideshow (How long? ________)
___Family and Friends Memories (Prepared or open? _________ How many?____ )
Special music? _________________________
Other minister co-officiating? __________________________
Graveside Service? Date, Time and Location: ____________________________________
Scripture Reading (Jn 11:25; Ps 103)
Words of Interment
Other elements? ____________________________________
Contact info: Pastor Richard Bargas Office: (XXX) XXX-XXXX
When I fill out the above form, I make sure to include as many details as possible. Some things, like particular family involvement, will sometimes be confirmed at a later date. After I have sat and walked through this process with the family, I will usually either photocopy or email a copy of the completed form to the family so they can know the order of the services and who is doing what. This is especially helpful the next day when they have a hard time remembering the meeting details because of their grief.
Normally, people are so overwhelmed with stress and the emotion of the day that they will need to be guided through each service element during the funeral, but it is good and comforting for them to know that you are in charge and know what is happening. I have included at the bottom of my form my church office number and my email in case they needed to get ahold of me, since I sometimes conducted funerals for friends of friends.
One last thing. There is a place in my form for a gospel message in the service. For me, this is a non-negotiable element. I won’t do a funeral if I’m not allowed to freely share the gospel, and I normally only take about 15 minutes to do so. I once had a person say they didn’t want me preaching at their guests. I replied that as a minister of the gospel I don’t know of any other hope to give to people than the hope of salvation in Christ. If they didn’t want this hope presented, then they didn’t want me to conduct the service. I spoke with a gentle but firm resolve. The widow took a second to think about what I said and then agreed that she did want this and asked me to do the service. She even thanked me after the service for the great comfort the Word of God brought. Fellow pastors, don’t fail to point the grieving to Christ, our only hope!
Below you can download a PDF copy of my form. Be aware that the contact info at the bottom of the form is no longer valid for me, so please don’t try to contact me at the phone number or email address.