Reclaiming Our Rites

As someone who’s had several deaths in my family, I can testify that prayers and casseroles are both helpful to the grieving process. But they’re not the only things that church people have to offer.

Members and pastors of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Austin, Texas, provide the bereaved with babysitting, transportation help, meals, liturgy planning, accompaniment to the funeral home, a post-funeral reception, bereavement groups, and counseling. Last year parishioners Carole Hawkins, Bob Leidlein, and Cheryl Grossman put together a resource booklet (incorporating materials from the Austin Memorial and Burial Information Society) after having shared their "funeral stories" with one another. They credit Father Oliver Johnson for actively encouraging parishioners to draw from their experiences and create ministries for the whole community.

Grossman is involved in plans for a diocesan-wide conference on the pastoral response to end-of-life issues. "This opens the forum to a large geographic area and a diverse community," she explains. "Folks without many financial or education resources will have access to a wide variety of experience and information."

Smaller churches can also offer help. An Episcopal church in Kansas included information about funeral planning in a Lenten study series on death and dying. Five Nazarene churches in a community came together to negotiate a special rate for their members with a local funeral home. An adult Sunday school class might take on death and funerals. Beyond the News: Facing Death, a 34-minute video and print study guide produced by Mennonite Media might be a useful resource (1-800-999-3534; www.thirdway.com), or check with your denomination for other source material.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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