The death of a loved one, regardless of the circumstances, is a time of significant loss and grief. Because it is difficult to plan appropriately when under the emotional stress of loss, you are encouraged to consider, discuss and even plan in advance the arrangements that will be necessary at the time of your own death or the death of a loved one. This includes decisions about the Christian options of burial, cremation or donation of the body for medical purposes. This brochure has been developed to help you pre-plan your own service, or to be of help to family members or friends at the time of a death. The pastors at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (MAPC) welcome the opportunity to assist you with such planning. They will be glad to keep a record on file of your preferences, as well as any other pertinent documents such as living wills, powers of attorney and lists of those to be notified at the time of death. They can also give you the names of several professional establishments specializing in embalming, cremation and other funeral arrangements that go beyond the development of the worship service. Donations for medical purposes should be made through a hospital or medical school.
Because We Believe
Because Christians believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, death is understood to be a natural part of this life. It is the occasion when those who die in the Lord move from this world where all die, to the realm of life eternal lived with the Lord, where death, loss, mourning, crying and pain no longer exist. (Rev. 21:4) Christians also experience death as a time of loss when sorrow, grief and bereavement are both natural and appropriate. These two convictions guide the church in its ministry to those who have lost a loved one to death, affirming with both joy and tears the promise and hope of the gospel.
Grieving in a Community of Hope
Christians do not bear bereavement in isolation, but are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit, the Comforter, and are to be surrounded by the support, consolation and care of the faith community. The pastors of this church have been trained to minister to and provide support and assistance to those who have lost someone to death. They welcome the privilege of ministering to you on such occasions, and stand ready to assist you in such times of need. When death occurs, a member of the pastoral staff should be informed as soon as possible in order that they might provide appropriate consolation and support to you, your family and friends, and assist in making arrangements for a service that commemorates and gives thanks for the life of the one who has died. These plans should provide for arrangements that are simple, bear witness to resurrection hope, are centered in the witness of Christian scripture as it is read and sung, and include the larger Christian community in prayer and support.
Choices To Be Made
A number of choices will need to be made beyond that of burial, cremation, organ or other donation for medical purposes before the service can be planned:
- Will the family wish to have an opportunity to view their loved one’s body? (Viewings are possible even when the deceased has made arrangements for organ donations.) Viewings can be very helpful to the grieving process that will follow, especially if the death was unexpected. A pastor can talk with you about this and assist you in your decision.
- Will the viewing be private (for family members only) or also include the larger community of friends?
- Will the body be buried, cremated or donated?
- Does the deceased have a burial plot or columbarium niche? If not, a funeral director can assist you with the purchase of a grave, or a niche may be purchased from the church.
- Will the service be a funeral or memorial service? Funeral services have the casket or urn present in the service; memorial services take place after burial, scattering of ashes or inurnment (placing of an urn in a columbarium niche).
- Will the burial, scattering or inurnment be a continuation of the worship service or take place before or at an extended time after the service?
- Will there be a reception following the worship or committal service, and where will it be held—the church’s Parish Hall, a club, nearby hotel or private home? The funeral or memorial service is ordinarily held in the usual place of worship in order to join the service to the community’s continuing worship, life and witness to the resurrection. It may be held on any day of the week, and should be planned for a time that will meet not only the needs of the family, but also enable the participation of other members of the faith community.
Policies Concerning the Service
The service itself is under the direction of the pastor and will include scripture readings, hymns, brief sermon, and prayers that affirm God’s power over death, belief in the resurrection to everlasting life and the assurance of the communion of saints. The service will give thanks for the life of the one who has died with special emphasis upon the gifts, attributes, accomplishments and contributions of the person’s life. Family members and/or friends may be invited to participate as leaders in the service at the discretion of the pastor. A request to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a part of the service requires the approval of the Session (the governing body of the congregation) with such a request being made through the pastor.1 The service is complete in itself and any fraternal, civic or military rites must be conducted at a separate time and place.2 When there are important reasons not to hold the service in the usual place of worship, it may be held at another suitable place such as a chapel, home, funeral home, crematorium, mausoleum, columbarium or graveside.
The Funeral or Memorial Service
The service begins with the gathering of family and the larger community. If a casket has been open for viewing (either in the sanctuary, Dana Chapel or the Phillips Lounge), it shall be closed, covered with the church’s white funeral pall and placed in the center of the crossing of the sanctuary, in front of the chancel steps. If the body has been cremated and not yet inurned, the urn will be placed on a small table on the chancel adjacent to the processional cross. During this time of gathering the organist or other musicians will play preludes suitable for reflection, meditation and personal prayer.
If tributes are to be offered, these will be presented once the family has been seated. Tributes offered by family members or friends will be limited to no more than two, and shall be no longer than five minutes each. Longer remembrances and recollections are more appropriately offered during a post committal/inurnment reception or meal. Following the tributes a final organ prelude will be played prior to a call to worship.
Lessons, Hymns, Anthems and Other Music
The service itself shall consist of a number of readings from scripture including several Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings, the singing of hymns, and may also include anthems, or other vocal or instrumental music. The service is designed to give expression to God’s sovereignty over death, confessing God’s power to raise us to new life and God’s desire to bring us comfort in our time of loss. The pastor will want to consult with the family in the choosing of these lessons, hymns and other musical offerings. A list of some appropriate scripture lessons and hymns is available at the bottom of this page and is intended to be helpful but not exhaustive. Other readings or music (poetry, inspirational writings or songs) should be presented as a part of the tributes, but must have the prior approval of the pastor to insure that their messages are consistent with the Christian gospel.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Following the reading of the lessons, a brief sermon and musical offering, the pastor will lead the community in prayer. This prayer is a time to give thanks to God for the life of Jesus Christ and the promise of the gospel, for the gift of the life of the one who has died, remembering the characteristics, contributions and service that especially endeared the deceased to family, friends and the faith community. Thanksgiving is also offered for the promised comfort of the Holy Spirit, praying for support for family and friends in this time of loss. Included in this prayer are intercessions for family members and loved ones who are grieving, as well as for those ministering to them and for all who have suffered loss. Following a prayer commending the one who has died to the eternal care of God, and for the grace of faith and hope for all present, the pastor will lead the congregation in praying together the Lord’s Prayer. Following a final hymn the people will be sent forth with a blessing and organ postlude. If a casket is present, the pastor will lead it and the pallbearers out of the sanctuary and to the waiting hearse. The family may follow the casket, be led by the other pastors to the Phillips Lounge in preparation for the cortege to the cemetery or to the Parish Hall to greet friends at a reception.
Service of Committal
A service of committal may take place at the graveside or in the columbarium either before or after the main worship service. This service of farewell for family and friends is one of simplicity, dignity and brevity. It will include a brief reading from scripture, words of committal, prayers, final blessing and dismissal, entrusting the one who has died to the care of God, bearing witness to faith in the resurrection to eternal life.3 It is also possible to hold only a graveside service, which would include scripture readings, remembrances of the deceased and prayers similar to those in a full service, including the prayer of committal.