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To help an individual prepare for death, and to assist in commending that person to the life-giving love of God, is one of the Church’s greatest and most sacred privileges.
We recognise that these days, many who look death in the face have no formal connection with a church community. Yet, death ushers us into the presence of a mystery, and often awakens our spiritual leanings and longings. At Christ Church, we count it an honour to come alongside those encountering death, whether or not they are members of our parish. Please do not hesitate to contact one of the Clergy.
Whether to have a funeral
From primitive times, people have taken great care in the burial of their dead. The customs and rituals attending burial depended in large measure on what a society believed about death and/or a life to come. Sometimes, for example, the dead were buried with food to sustain them in a shadowland, or with gifts to appease the gods. Christians believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” and so we bury our dead with prayers. That is all they need.
Many people these days propose that there be no funeral or other formal gathering to mark their life. Such a request may emerge from a genuine sense of humility, or of not wanting to make a fuss or to put people to a lot of trouble. It may also stem from a lack of “connection” to formal worship and ceremonial. Nevertheless, the Church strongly encourages people to find a way to solemnize the end of an earthly life. This is only partly a matter of attending to the emotional well-being of mourners by “bringing closure.” Even more important from a Christian perspective is the need to pause and recognise that a life has been lived: that the world, and we ourselves, have been changed and shaped by that life; and that now, death is going to change and shape us again. The end of a human life is no less a watershed than its beginning, and just as we instinctively celebrate birth, so we find ways to “celebrate” death.
A Christian burial differs from a wake, or a gathering to eulogize the dead, in that it looks not just to the past, but to the future. That is, not only do we listen with a admiration to stories of the accomplishments, character and convictions of the departed. We also listen with hope to stories of how God brings new life out of death, and we prop one another up in our belief that this is the destiny of the deceased.
Accordingly, a Christian service will strike a balance between tributes to the departed, and a proclamation of the power of God to make all things new; between a celebration of the gifts of the one who has died, and a celebration of the God who entrusted those gifts to him or her for our common good.
At Christ Church, we prefer to conduct funerals and memorial services in the church, because the church speaks of so much more than death, and thus places death in the larger context of life and faith. Death is never the last word in a Church which celebrates resurrection every single Sunday. We will, of course, make exceptions where a family has good and personal reasons for gathering elsewhere.
Preparation for Funerals
Planning funerals or memorial services is an important ministry of the Church, and we welcome discussion about these matters before, during, or after, a mortal illness. Some people choose to leave funeral instructions on file, in order to make things easier for their family, and to ensure that their preferences are accommodated.
The clergy expect to assist in planning the order of service, in the selection of readings and music, and in tailoring the service so that it honours the departed, and meets the needs of the bereaved. A funeral needs to provide a safe “container” for the vulnerability and grief of the mourners, and the officiating clergy will offer guidelines to ensure that this is the case.
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