I had an interesting and startling experience the other day. I was conducting a funeral. The family had no connection with my churches or any church for that matter. I occasionally get asked to lead such funerals by the funeral director probably because I have been in the area for a long time and we have worked together a lot. I have been quite busy and almost said no when the call came but in the end, agreed to do the funeral.
The name of the family contact sounded familiar and it turned out that I knew him from past days when I was an officer with the Army Cadet program and he was a cadet. When he recognized me, he mentioned that he had no idea I was a minister–my role in the Cadet program was supply officer, making sure that uniforms of approximately the right size and other equipment on were given to the right people at the right time. But that connection did make it easier for both of us as we worked together to design the funeral service.
Anyway, I quickly became aware of the fact that the family had very little in the way of church connections. The person who had died had attended worship as a child but stopped when she got married–and given that she married very young, that was a long time ago. The family didn’t know any hymns except “Amazing Grace”. They didn’t know any Scriptures. They had no church home but since the service was going to be in the funeral home, that wasn’t a problem. Eventually, we manage to develop a service that they were comfortable with.
The day of the funeral arrived. As usual, I arrived early to make sure everything was ready and to chat with the funeral people. Some of the family was already there–dressed in jeans and t-shirts, some inside being uncomfortable and others outside having a last smoke being equally uncomfortable. Nobody knew what to do, how to behave, what to expect, how to function.
The funeral home staff did their usual great job of helping people with the process and I greeted and talked with people, offering prayer with the family before we began. As the service started, I was well aware that this was what Christian academics would call a “post-Christian” group.
I followed the order of service, well aware that nobody was paying much attention to what I was saying. I did a brief eulogy based on what the family had told me that did produce a few responses from the family. Then I started the pastoral prayer which was to end with the Lord’s Prayer. Part way through the prayer, I realized that many people there probably didn’t know the Lord’s prayer and I wondered if maybe I should skip it–multi-tasking isn’t just a part of my computer life.
But since the Lord’s Prayer was included in the bulletin, I began it as normal–and repeated the whole prayer by myself. Not one member of the audience joined in. I finished the prayer and moved on with the service.
I live and work in an part of Canada that has deep and strong Christian roots–our area was site of the first European settlement in Canada and the settlers had a priest with them. My own denomination, the Baptists, were a vital part of our local history–at one point there was a active Baptist congregation about every 8 kilometers (5 miles) along our roads. All the other major and a lot of minor denominations are represented as well.
But as that funeral shows me, somewhere along the line, we have lost our way and allowed our faith and churches to become ghettoized. I think it is sad and serious that the people at this funeral didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. But the problem isn’t with them. The problem is with those of us who have faith. We have, I think, forgotten that one of Jesus’ two commands was to “Go” (Matthew 28.19). As a result, we sit in our church buildings, waiting for people to come to us. But these days, there are many things to do that are a lot more interesting than what we offer.
And people are more interested in those things than in us. Both as individuals and as churches, we need to discover the reality of being in a post-Christian world, confess our failures that have lead to that happening and then we need to follow the Holy Spirit back into the real world where people live and work and need the light of God.
May the peace of God be with you.