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Spring flowers in a graveyard

Gospel Presentation and Eulogies: Part 1

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Posted by Adam Young, 15 May 2017

In the first of two posts considering how ministers structure the gospel presentation and eulogy in a funeral service, the Revd Adam Young explains why he combined the two into a single presentation.

One reality of ministry is that funerals come along and impose themselves on our carefully planned out diaries.  Sometimes you go for a while without many and then five or six come in quick succession.  Other times they come in a steady stream.  No matter when they come along they are a wonderful opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel and the love of Christ to those who are grieving.  It is easy to overlook how significant these opportunities are to pastor and reach out to those who rarely, if ever, come to church.  Being a national church we have a demanding yet rewarding duty in this area—and we must seek to make the most of it even when it can seem an inconvenience to our plans.

One debate among clergy is over how and when we share the gospel during a funeral service.  In this post, and another to follow, we will be looking at different ways in which people integrate the proclamation of the Gospel into their funeral services.  The point is not the argue about who does it ‘best’—after all context is likely king—but merely to share our experiences and methods so that others may see how such ministry is done elsewhere.

Unless a family member requests to give the eulogy I have generally combined the eulogy with the Gospel proclamation (or ‘sermon’).  This is no doubt in part due to what I was taught at Wycliffe Hall by the Reverend Will Donaldson.  The format which he passed on to many at Wycliffe has been one I have found immensely useful.  During the ‘talk’ I explain the three things which a death in the family should cause to happen:

A death in the family is a time to be sad—this sadness and even tears are good, natural, and important.

A death in the family is a time to give thanks to God—thanks for their life, for those who have supported you, and for your own life which is a gift from Him.  During this section you ‘eulogise’ and expand on their life in the context of giving thanks.

A death in the family is a time to think—death always causes questions.  Is there a God?  Is there a purpose in life? Is there hope after death?  The answer to all of these is of course YES!

I’ve always found this method to really engage with the congregation.  It affirms the place of grief and sadness.  It helps those reserved stiff upper lip English folk to be free to express their emotions at this difficult time.  It frames the life of the deceased in the context of thanksgiving which is something which families increasingly seem to desire—a ‘thanksgiving’ rather than a ‘funeral’—yet doesn’t undermine the important distinctives of a Christian funeral.  At the funeral I have found that in general the congregation are most tuned in when recounting the life story of the deceased; this is where they are most likely to engage and listen.  Having the Gospel immediately following on the back of this section, and framing it as questions to reflect on, seems to me to make sense. Hopefully, given the proximity to the eulogy, the people are still listening and not tuning out (at least at first!).

Having this structure also helps when it comes to factoring in the time it takes to prepare a funeral sermon.  You are able to keep the first and last sections largely the same by changing only the middle section.  Rather than crafting a completely new piece for every sermon you can re-use most of it each time yet still keep it unique to the deceased.  I’ve often thought about crafting each sermon completely individually but in reality never found the time due to the other pressures of ministry. This structure works best with the reading coming from John 14 but can also be easily adapted to reference other common readings.

Next week we will consider the other side of this debate—keeping the eulogy and gospel presentation separate.

The Reverend Adam Young is a minister in York Diocese

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