National Lutheran News

Getting ready for your resurrection

Congregations encourage preparation for the final passage

Although most people don’t relish thinking about their own mortality, making
plans for one’s own funeral or memorial service is one of the kindest things a
person can do for his/her survivors. There is some interest among Lutheran
congregations in the Twin Cities area in encouraging members to have a plan
on file with their church.

Such planning is also a way through scripture and music selections to have
one more witness to one’s faith.

Normandale Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Edina, Minnesota, is one local
Lutheran congregation that has held planning workshops for members to
plan their own services. Its second funeral workshop in November was
sponsored by the church’s Center for Healing and Wholeness, a ministry to
seniors. This workshop was titled “Sleeper Awake! (Planning Your Service of
Resurrection).”

Meredith Holm, parish nurse and wife of Senior Pastor David Holm, said, “My
husband has said many times that planning a meaningful funeral or memorial
service would be so much easier if we had information from the person. Many
times the family doesn’t remember under stress the deceased’s favorite
hymns or scriptures. It’s such a comfort to the family to have the person’s
wishes in writing.”

Dr. Jack Swanson, Normandale organist, believes that “having a plan on file
makes it easier for the family.” Swanson said. “Family members are often
unprepared and make poor choices for funeral or memorial services. Planning
in advance means selections can be made in a calm, reasoned manner.”

He feels that many hymns used at funerals have become tired from overuse
and says, “Many of the great hymns of Christendom fit perfectly in a funeral
or memorial service.” He believes that no more than one in 10 or 20 members
has a funeral or memorial service plan on file. He’s seen the decisionmaking
under stress from both medical and musical perspectives. He was a family
practice medical doctor, then a pathologist, and later the medical director for
the former Lutheran Brotherhood insurance company before becoming
organist at Normandale in 1984.

Swanson feels that many funeral plans go through changes as time goes by.
He observes that the family can “modify the plan if they don’t feel it’s
appropriate and the deceased isn’t there to object.”

He observed, “At no other liturgy is it as important to renew our faith and
proclaim Christian hope. This is the time when our relationship with God, as
it began in our baptism, is brought to its final completion. At the same time,
our continued connection to God as we grieve is made clear. God loves us and
we know that through the grief we can experience hope.”

Normandale’s Pastor David Holm had this to say, “From my pastoral
perspective, it is of immeasurable comfort to a grieving family to discover
their loved one has intentionally planned his/her service of resurrection. It
occurs to me, in this death-denying culture, to witness to the faith — we have
already died in our baptism and our life is hid with Christ in God — is a gift.
Normandale inserts in its service bulletin a planning form every year on All
Saints Sunday. We have been encouraged to present seminars on death and
dying that invite the congregation to consider living out the baptismal
covenant. (Our baptism is fulfilled in our death.)”

Normandale’s workshop presenters included Holm and Swanson. They
provided handouts with suggestions on scripture and music for a service of
resurrection. Pastor Holm said that Normandale’s funeral planning guide is
just two sides of a single sheet of paper and includes everything from who is
to be notified of the death to where the service would be held and who the
pallbearers are to be. He said the most complete guide he has seen is one
used by Central Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis. Pastor Mark
Peterson, a visitation pastor at Central, said there are no formal workshops
there but that he usually covers the guide at some point in visiting sick and
homebound members.

Normandale Lutheran’s Center for Healing and Wholeness has also presented
a seminar titled “Five Wishes,” a name for a health care directive sometimes
called “a living will with a heart.” The presenter for the seminar was Jeanne
McGill, a certified funeral preplanning consultant.