Here's how to comfort and not comfort at a funeral
The writer was a member of the Worldwide Church of God from the early 1960s until 1995. He is an alumnus of Ambassador College who worked in the printing departments on the California and Texas campuses. He continues to observe the Sabbath and feast days and worships with a Church of God (Seventh Day) congregation in Farmville, N.C. Mr. Obermeit and his wife, the former Sue Lashua, have lived in North Carolina for 18 years.
By Horst Obermeit
KENLY, N.C.--Death is inevitable, and with death comes the need for a funeral of some kind.
Sixteen years ago, while my family and I were still members of the Worldwide Church of God, my 19-year-old sister, Linda, died of cancer. It fell on me to make her funeral arrangements.
When my wife's father died 12 years ago, his widow wanted a simple private ceremony in her home since she was no longer a member of the WCG and did not belong to any other church. Since her son and daughter were still members of the WCG, she agreed to have a small private service for her immediate family conducted by the local WCG pastor.
When my mother died Jan. 24, we suddenly faced the reality of making funeral arrangements again sooner than we had hoped.
Our family--including my brothers Tony, Eric, Klaus and Hans--are scattered. Tony lives in Australia. Eric (we call him Zeke) lives in California. Klaus and Hans live in Florida, as does my father, Gerhard (or Gary).
We all once belonged to the WCG, but now we're as scattered churchwise as we are geographically. My parents have been members of the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG), based in Edmond, Okla., for several years.
Since Klaus lives near my dad, it fell on his shoulders to make most of the arrangements for Mom's funeral.
Ensuring an uplifting service
Since I had attended a funeral performed by a minister of the PCG for one of its members in our area less than a year ago--and I had found it to be totally unacceptable as far as what was said, how long the funeral sermon went and how the funeral was conducted--I wanted to make some suggestions about the ceremony for my mother.
I respect my dad's desire to have his church and minister conduct the funeral, so my brother and I offered to speak as well so we could make sure some encouraging and uplifting words were said during the service.
Since, as things turned out, we had no opportunity to talk beforehand with the minister who would be speaking, Klaus and I were not sure if his message would be similar to the one I had heard at the earlier PCG funeral.
At Mom's funeral, on Jan. 28, Klaus thanked family and friends for the comfort and help we were receiving from them during this difficult time.
He reminded us that Mom enjoyed life and especially loved her family and church. He noted the time was appropriate for mourning, but it was also a time to remember the good times we had had with Mom and the laughter we had shared with her.
Klaus also read a message from our brother Tony, from Australia.
I had decided to read verbatim from notes I had made. Here is an excerpt from my message:
"Thank you for coming during this difficult time in our lives. I'm Horst, the oldest of five sons and one daughter of Hilde and Gary Obermeit.
"If you're wondering why I'm wearing a red jacket at a funeral, it's because red is my favorite color and I wanted to honor Mom today.
"I hope what I wear or what I say won't offend anyone. If it does, please forgive me because that is not my intention. This is not a day to offend people. As we mourn, it is a day to comfort and encourage. I hope that you can take comfort in knowing what a wonderful mother my mom was to me.
"You are here because you knew my mom or one of her sons. I want to tell you a little about my mom and what a wonderful person she was to me and our family. Most of you know how short she was, but she was a giant in my life in the love she showed to her children and to her husband, my dad.
"Mom was born in a part of Germany called Silesia that is now part of Poland. She fled with her parents as refugees during World War II. She married my dad shortly after the war in 1947. When I was born she was told not to have any more children because of her health. She not only had more children, but she used her good sense of humor and that special twinkle in her eyes whenever she told people that the doctor didn't tell her how not to have more children.
"In 1958 she and my dad, Gary, came to America with their three sons to start a new life. Two weeks later she gave birth to her fourth son. Later, after five boys, she gave birth to our sister, Linda.
"A strength Mom had was her faith in God. She faithfully served Him over many years. I can say with confidence that when that last trump blows and all in Christ shall be made alive I will see my mom rising into the air to meet Christ as He returns to earth. I hope to rise and meet her there at Jesus' feet.
"The church Mom and Dad have been members of for some time has a beautiful symbol. It is a trumpet. To me that represents the last trump that will blow at Christ's return. Then I will see her alive again.
"I had better quit soon since Dad wanted a short service, especially because his minister will say a few words to us. Dad told me that Mr. [Cal] Culpepper [the PCG minister] will speak to us for only about 15 minutes about the hope of the resurrection.
"I teased my dad that I hope it's not too much longer than that because I can't sit through the long sermons that your ministers are famous for. I told Dad that if he goes too long or I'm too bothered to listen I'll just have to get up and leave.
"As we mourn my mother and comfort each other, I hope we will all know that she loved us greatly, that we love her and that we look forward to that last trump when we will see her again."
New church policy
Shirley Dietz sang a beautiful rendition of "How Great Thou Art." Then Mr. Culpepper spoke for about 20 minutes and concluded the service with a prayer.
My only other experience with a funeral conducted by the Philadelphia Church of God ministry had been a difficult and offensive one last year in North Carolina. That minister spoke for nearly an hour and offended most who were not part of the PCG by calling on us to repent and join their true church and embrace their teachings. He said nothing to comfort the grieving family or friends.
Apparently the offense caused by that funeral had an impact on the PCG and how it conducts funerals.
After my mom's funeral Mr. Culpepper told me it is now the church's policy that a funeral must be conducted only by a regional pastor. He told me that the new policy is a direct result of the problems encountered from the earlier funeral.
My father received personal condolence calls from Oklahoma from Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Flurry as well as a fruit basket from the Flurrys.
I much appreciate those calls for the encouragement they gave my father, but I also believe they came only after I had talked to Mr. Culpepper and after I had related my concern about the earlier funeral.
Several of the brethren of Dad's church were helpful and kind to us during this time. Gerry and Helen Walworth went out of their way to assist us, including allowing us to stay in their home and then preparing a dinner for the immediate family after the funeral.
Other church members contributed food. The efforts of the members of the Philadelphia Church of God are greatly appreciated.
But the ministry of their church made no effort to offer condolences or even to contact those of us in the family who are not members of their church.
Mr. Culpepper's words
Mr. Culpepper's message at my mom's funeral was certainly not offensive. It was a great improvement over the other PCG funeral message I had heard.
However, in my opinion it did nothing for the family and was intended instead as a witness of the teachings of his church.
Although he began by saying he was there to comfort the family, he said nothing that did so.
He included a quick recitation of numerous scriptures touching on the resurrection. I suspect that his haste through those scriptures was because Dad had asked for a short message and because of my remark about getting up to leave if he spoke too long.
He then read a letter my mom had written a friend about distributing the Philadelphia Trumpet magazine. He used that as a means to say a few things about the Philadelphia Church of God.
A time to remember
A funeral should be a time to say good-bye to someone you love. It should be a time to remember and share some of the good memories of that person to help people make it through the pain of the loss. It should be a time to remember the awesome promise of the resurrection and the hope that we have in seeing our loved one again when Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, returns and we are raised to meet Him in the air.
It should be personal in a way that makes it part of the beginning of the healing experience rather than an advertisement for a church.
If you must arrange a funeral for a family member, you should consider the type of message you want. The family can greatly influence what is said, even if the minister is a member of a church whose beliefs differs from yours.
I tried in this article not to offend anyone. Some may consider my sharing these thoughts as offensive, and I am sorry they may feel that way. It is not my intention to offend, rather to help others faced with difficult decisions at a time when a little comfort and encouragement can mean so much.
I offer my assistance to anyone who would like some help with a loved one's funeral arrangements.
If you want to contact me for such help, you may reach me at 2318 Memorial Church Rd., Kenly, N.C. 27542, U.S.A.; (919) 242-6273; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God