The Christian Funeral
As Christians we believe that God in Christ has conquered death. Death brings separation and decisions that are painful but our Christian faith and tradition enable us to witness to our faith as we make final arrangements for our loved ones. The church offers a ministry of love and hope to all who grieve. The Session of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Nacogdoches, Texas has adopted the following policies and suggestions regarding services for members on the occasion of death.
Because it is difficult when under emotional stress to plan wisely, the Session encourages members to discuss and plan in advance the arrangements that will be necessary at the time of death including the Christian options of burial, cremation or donation for medical purposes. These plans should provide for arrangements that are simple, which bear witness to resurrection hope and in which the Christian community is central.
Counseling on the Occasion of Death
One of the most valuable services the Church provides its members at the time of death is that of pastoral counseling. The minister should be consulted immediately when a death occurs, for he/she is uniquely equipped to give those Christian services which the bereaved family needs. The minister is able to discuss with compassion and objectivity those important decisions that the family needs to make. The minister will meet with the family to arrange the Services.
Services on the Occasion of Death
For Presbyterians the Book of Order states that a funeral is a Worship Service wherein God’s people witness to their faith in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. During the Service the assurance of God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ is ministered to the bereaved. We are not observers in this Worship Service, we are participants. This distinguishing mark of Christian Worship should be so in the funeral. In the Service, the Word of God is central and as worshipers, we participate in the service through prayer, hymns of praise and the affirmation of our faith. In Worship, our grief is healed and our sorrow comforted by the Lord who made heaven and earth. If the family desires, the Pastor will invite other clergy to participate in the Service. The family may make suggestions for the Service to the Pastor. A request to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a part of a service on the occasion of death requires the approval of the Session. The Worship Service may be observed before or after the committal of the body, The Worship Service is complete in itself and any civic or military rites should be conducted separately.
At the Worship Service, it is appropriate for worshipers to sing hymns, psalms, spirituals or spiritual songs which affirm God’s power over death, a belief in the resurrection to life everlasting and the assurance of the communion of the saints. The choir director and /or organist will provide guidance for the selection of appropriate music. The organist will provide the music for the Worship Service unless she/he approves an alternative.
Services with a Casket
The funeral should be in the normal place of worship, the church. During the Worship Service, the casket will be closed in order that attention in the Service is directed to God. If the family desires “viewing”, it should ordinarily take place at the funeral home. Members are encouraged to use the church’s pall on the casket. The use of the pall is a revival of an ancient Christian custom. This is a cloth that is spread over the casket, covering it completely, thereby eliminating all outward distinctions. If the family desires a United States flag may be used to cover the casket of those who have seen service in the military. A Christian funeral is enhanced by its simplicity of worship since Christians believe that God looks within the heart and not on outward material things.
Services of Committal
Interment may precede or follow the Worship Service. Members and friends of the family of the one who has died should gather at the graveside or crematorium for a service of farewell, which is to be conducted with simplicity, dignity and brevity. The service includes readings from Scripture, prayers, words of committal and a blessing, reflecting the reality of death, entrusting the one who has died to the care of God, and bearing witness to faith in the resurrection from the dead. This practice is found in the Book of Order, which is part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Cremation is a matter of personal preference. It is not inconsistent with the Christian faith. It is also a matter of personal desire to help humanity that the body or parts of it may be used in the service of others in medicals schools and hospitals.
Lying of the Body in State at the Church
This is a departure from normal practices of Westminster Presbyterian Church and must be approved in advance by the Session.
Facilities and Services of the Church
On the occasion of death, the Church will provide its physical facilities and services without charge to the family. The ministers, choir director, organist, custodian and ushers consider providing these services to be an important part of their pastoral ministry for the church. Members of Westminster Presbyterian Church will provide ushers. The church will provide printed programs to aid the congregants in following the Worship Service. The ushers will distribute the programs. It is very important to have four ushers to assist with seating and to further ensure the physical and spiritual comfort of those attending the Service.
If a pall or a United States flag is not used to cover the casket, a spray of flowers may be used. Floral arrangements on either side of the casket are appropriate. The church suggests that its brass vases be used for the floral arrangements. A limited number of floral sprays may be permitted if requested by the family. No flowers may be placed on the communion table. It is requested that no personal memorabilia, such as pictures of the deceased, be displayed in the sanctuary during the Worship Service.
It is the policy of this church that funeral or memorial services not be held on Sundays. The minister, funeral director and family should arrange a suitable time for the services in consultation with one another.
Memorial gifts that will benefit the church are entirely fitting. The church is prepared to accept contributions for library books, hymnals, flower fund or other church needs. These gifts may be made to benefit Westminster Presbyterian Church and/or our national church.
Funeral and Memorial Service Checklist
The Funeral and Memorial Services Checklist should be completed by the church office in consultation with the family, funeral director and the minister. It is used by church staff to coordinate the services.
Westminster Presbyterian Church, its staff and Session are ready to assist you as needed. Our congregation is compassionate and understands that the desires of the bereaved are foremost in a funeral or memorial service.