God's Word for today

Sunday, 3 May 2009

First "white" funeral

On Saturday I did my first-ever funeral in a white context, which sounds strange coming from a white minister! However, last year and this year I've been serving the Church in coloured communities, where things are done a bit differently than us "whiteys" are used to.

For instance, when someone dies in a coloured community, services are held in the home from Monday night through to Thursday night. Friday the family is given a "break" (a misnomer, since they normally spend the time preparing the catering for Saturday). On Saturday morning, there is a service in the house, followed by the funeral itself in the church. Then it's the service at the graveside, and then back to the house for lunch. As the minister I normally conduct the church funeral as well as the graveside service, and attend one of the mid-week services in order to meet with the family and to support the local preachers. For this, I am rewarded with pride of place at the house on Saturday, having had a gargantuan plate of food placed in fromt of me. I often feel guilty because (a) the families concerned are often not in a position to afford being able to feed upwards of 250 people, and (b) many of the guests are sitting outside, while I'm being treated like the guest of honour inside. I guess it's a case of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", but it's not a situation I'm comfortable with.

In a white context, on the other hand, funerals are a far more subdued affair. One meets with the family a ciouple of days beforehand to sort out the arrangements for the service, and the funeral itself is normally not much more than about 40 minutes. At one point, when the coffin was being brought into the foyer of the church, I asked the undertaker whether the family had requested viewing, and he was horrified! "If we open coffins inside the church, we'll get fired!" was his response. How was I to know? In my coloured congregations, the viewing of the body is standard operating procedure. Ah, well ... chalk another one up to the learning curve.

The other thing that struck me as strange was the three envelopes handed to me by the undertaker. Somewhat bemused, I gave them to Jean, our secretary, and asked to be enlightened. Her resopnse was: "One for the church, one for the organist, and one for you" as she thrust the envelope marked "Reverend" into my hand. Now I'm not sure what to make of this, as I'm also not familiar with the customs around funerals. Certainly I never considered receiving payment for the funeral - after all, I am the minister, and I do receive a stipend, so technically I've already been paid for doing the funeral. Still feeling somewhat uncomfortable about the whole thing, seeing as the church said that it's mine and I feel it's the church's, I handed the (still sealed) envelope to Neville for the upcoming Mozambique mission.

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