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“Downsizing” the Funeral
By Don Pate
Some across North America know that our church (Knoxville First) recently suffered a very painful and unexpected loss. A sweet girl (almost nine) who was going to be baptized by her grandfather in just a few weeks was killed in a fluke accident at her other grandfather’s home. Her little brother was injured but he is now heading toward rapid recovery. It was a hard Thanksgiving week.
The loss of anyone is painful. The loss of a child seems so wrong. Any veteran pastor knows this type of thing also adds another layer of ministry because it touches the lives of all the kids in that child’s classroom, Adventurers, Sabbath School and the like.
Due to the role of this family (both parents and grandparents on both sides) in denominational ministry we had a number of representatives attend the funeral to support. Among them were several representatives of the North American Division. They have urged me to share something that we created for this funeral that others may wish to adapt.
With some degree of uncertainty I decided to insert a Children’s Story into the funeral. We wanted it to feel, very much, like the tone of what these children do as part of our worship from week to week. I wasn’t sure what the response would be to this unusual curve ball, but was gratified that the classmates and others came forward very easily even though there was a closed casket on the other side of the stage area.
The intention was, of course, to try to speak comfort and hope to them at their level. Each pastor would, of course, need to adapt their own style and resources into something like this but this is how we advanced− I got took my guitar and got them involved in a fun kids’ song that I wrote some years ago, “That’s What Heaven Will Be.” It allowed them to focus on the great things coming and to mimic the fun, “Boom, Boom, Boom” at the end of each chorus.
Then I blew a Shofar and spoke of how Jesus often heard it blasted in His world but we know that I Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 19 tell us of the day when Jesus will use a silver trumpet. “When He blasts it He will shout, ‘Awake, awake, awake ye that sleep in the dust and arise!’ That’s when our friend Deborah will hear Him and we’ll all join her in the race to see who can get to the River of Life the fastest. The first one in gets to be the first one to ride on the back of a dolphin…”
In this manner, only a few moments, I tried to bridge between “the Hope” and the fun phrases of the song and how we know that Deborah is now waiting for the blast of Jesus’ trumpet.
As I said, I approached this with a degree of uncertainty but it really did feel like “it worked.” The kids seemed engaged and blessed. Parents and others shared with me that it really did move extremely difficult things forward with their children in a very positive way. Fellow pastors and denominational administrators told us that this was an idea that needed to be shared.
I certainly can’t assume that we were the first to do this kind of thing. But, I can affirm that I know what I will be doing if and when we face a difficult moment like this again.
Don Pate is the lead/teaching pastor for the Knoxville First Church in Knoxville, Tennessee