Monday, September 27, 2010

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol. V

So, last week was a busy week.  I preached (as usual) on Sunday, and then had a short afternoon off before dinner with the council members of the smaller of my two congregations.  It was a marvelous dinner, but still was something on the "to-do" list. 

Then Monday I had to head into the "big city" for staff meetings, internship supervision, etc... I like going to the city, (Starbucks, Walmart, and Target, the greatest sirens in my life) but I had to hurry back home because there was a visitation and prayer service (kind of a forum for eulogies, held in conjunction with many funerals in this part of the country) for a man at my church who had died.  I didn't really have to "run" any of it, as the deceased had a relative who is a pastor in a nearby town who had been pressed into service, but I still needed to go, and I'm glad I did. 

Tuesday was the funeral, and I spent most of the day in my office/the church being hospitable to all the assorted funeral people running around - funeral committee ladies, funeral home staff, etc...

Wednesday I went to the local nursing home to learn about leading worship there, as I apparently now have a rotating responsbility for leading it, and while I was at the nursing home, the funeral home director called to tell me that one of my parishoners had died, in the nursing home, the night before, and that we needed to get going on funeral arrangements.  So Wednesday afternoon/evening was spent consulting with my supervisor and trying to get a hold of the family, which ended up being kind of a weird thing.  I guess people get strange around death, and everyone reacts differently, but still, it was odd. 

Thursday was spent trying to get information out of the family, who at least was now returning my phone calls, but not being particularly helpful.  Thursday night I went to the funeral home, for the "family-only" visitation (I managed to finagle an invitation, I didn't just crash it), which turned out to be the best decision ever, as it uncovered a lot of information that helped me write my sermon.  After that, on Thursday night, was an Internship Committee meeting, after which my supervisor (who had come down for the initial meeting) wanted to chat more about the next day's funeral. 

Friday was 1) Finish sermon, 2) Funeral, 3) Burial, 4) "Lunch", 5) SLEEP, because I'd also been fighting a terrible head cold of the make-you-want-to-do-nothing-but-chug-Nyquil-and-have-your-mom-take-care-of-you variety all week, obviously, because I had nothing else to do. 

Saturday I wrote my sermon for Sunday, and then observed the officiating of a (very) small wedding in town and attended the post-ceremony dinner. 

Sunday: Church, and SLEEP. 

So, it was crazy.  Although, apparently not all that crazy for a week in the life of the solo pastor.  All in all, I handled it well, I thought, although if I hadn't been so sick it would have gone much better. 

I also have my first funeral under my belt now.  It's good to have it done, and it's probably good that it was a man I didn't know at all (get through the ceremony with less emotion on my own part, so I can focus on what I need to be doing as the pastor/leader), and that not too many people were in attendance.  (It's sad to think about, but when you're 90 years old, most of your friends are already dead...)  Basically, I used the LBW rite, altered slightly to accomodate the fact that most of these people are not very hymnal-savvy.  They could be, but my supervisor and I agreed that it was probably better to eliminate as much of the back-and-forth of the hymnal as possible, especially since it's not a known liturgy.  So I put together my "funeral binder" of literally every single word that I needed to say, up to and including my welcome and announcements, and with the sermon in the binder in the exact right place, right after the readings and before the prayers.  And amazingly enough, it worked.  It turns out that that is what the rubrics are there for - to tell you what to do when you don't know what you're supposed to be doing.  (Well, that's one of the reasons.)  But it was good for me to think about the number of people who have been commended and committed with this language and prayers down through the years (one of the good things about the LBW is that it's fairly Scriptural and traditional/historical), and if all those pastors could do it, so could I.  And surprisingly, I found it to be a great honor to be a part of laying someone to rest, commending them to God, and committing them to the earth. 

Finally, working with the family, and the struggles I had getting anywhere with some of them, reminded me a lot of CPE, and I realized one of the things I learned this summer: how to be in a slightly awkward, uncomfortable situation, where the people aren't really sure they want you there, and you're not sure you want to be there, but you stick it out anyway because you have to, and eventually they will cave on the awkwardness and give you something.  That's a fairly crude way to describe it, but I had a lot of similar situations this summer, with patients who were a little resistant to visits or talking at first, but through sheer perseverance and "I-have-to-pass-this-stupid-program-and-I'm-not-going-to-let-you-stop-me-from-doing-so" on my part, I managed to eventually "wear down" into talking.  So, one point in favor of CPE.

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