In our current COVID19 context, with social distancing encouraged and public gatherings prohibited, it is important for pastors and church councils to consider how they will deal with funeral protocols during this pandemic.
What is especially important is that pastors and councils have a conversation about this together, and decide how they will handle this when the need arises. And it is important that if at all possible, this conversation occurs prior to an actual situation arising. This will allow for a decision being made on the basis of thoughtfulness and prudence, rather than being driven by the heat and urgency of a death in the church community.
It may be wise to consider holding a small, graveside ceremony for immediate family and loved ones, and postponing a memorial service till a time when it is possible to once again gather. In some situations, there may be an opportunity to livestream a service. It may also be important to forego the practice of visitation at the funeral home for the time being. Attending to whatever regulations are in place in a given state or province is necessary.
And attending to the pastoral needs of those who are grieving is also important. The usefulness of current technologies will be especially important in continuing to connect with one another.
What is especially important in this context is that pastors and councils have a conversation about this, and decide on their posture and protocols, so that they can stand together. There will be concern and resistance from some members and families, and for the wellbeing of pastors and church communities, a thoughtful posture and decision by the leadership in a congregation is vital. And, of course, it is also vital that our practices are an appropriate response to the health threat of this pandemic.
Once a decision has been reached, communicate it openly to your congregation.
May God bless your conversations as pastors and councils, and may God strengthen you as you anchor the stories of people’s lives in the bedrock of the Scripture story, with capacity to be truthful about the pain of brokenness, and graceful about the reality of hope.
The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection that first Easter morning, was given to startled, frantic people—in the setting of a cemetery. What better place to hear necessary good news, then…and what better place for us to remember, now—that our life is held by the One making all things new.