Thursday, December 30, 2010

Window Dressing

I remember reading about the criticism of a clergyman’s words at a funeral for a person he obviously didn’t know. The remarks were general and rang pretty hollow.  

I’ve been there.  It can be hard to do services for people who didn’t come to my church, didn’t know me or didn’t want to know me, but their families wanted the minister to come in, say heartfelt things over their salty Uncle Jed and sort of ceremonialize the guy into heaven. Afterwards, they hand me fifty and don’t want to see me again until the next funeral.

It’s the same with weddings. I usually insist that couples come to me for premarital counseling and they’ll come and sit restlessly, nodding at the right places. I tell the young ones that issues of spirituality get more important as they get older. I tell them that their values are what defines them. And they nod vacantly.

The day comes when they say, “I do.” They hand me fifty, run to a waiting car and an overpriced honeymoon, and I don’t see them again until they die or perhaps get divorced and find themselves needing someone… anyone… to talk to.  Even a clergy guy will do then.  

I wonder why so many bother. People say the clergy are hypocritical and hollow, I say people treat me like part of the decorations at their occasion. If they gripe because I wasn’t meaningful enough, I wonder what they expect out of window dressing?  

Why do I do it? I’ve thought about refusing more often but there are two reasons I don’t.

First, it’s my one moment that I can minister to them, perhaps reach them and give them meaningful words they can use later.

Second, I need the fifty. 


  1. It occurs to me that much of your work is like mine was as a psychotherapist. People came to me with their own agenda, usually to stop the pain. I saw them with my own agenda, to facilitate growth and emotional health. Sometimes we could partner and do both. It was my job to try to make enough of a connection to make them want to stay long enough to get past the relief of their immediate pain and begin to explore and engage in self reflection long enough to move towards real emotional health. These things take time and effort, spiritual journeys and psychological growth. I could never ‘make’ someone healthy. I could help them on their way, facilitate, and support. The drive and the real work had to be theirs. You can’t ‘make’ anyone spiritual. You can try to make enough of a connection that they might stick around long enough to move towards spiritual development. You can help them on their way, support and facilitate, but the journey and the real work is theirs. Frustrating often, rewarding sometimes. Where you need to be? I am guessing yes. ~K

  2. K, really appreciate your making the parallel. Seems like I understood this but on occasion forget it.

    You're right that so much about the job consists of me standing back ready to help when they're ready. I do what I can, make any connection I can, hoping it might make a difference.

    I hate the job sometimes but I can't imagine doing anything else.

    Thanks for the assist.


  3. I fully understand what you mean. I've been to funerals like that, hell, even if the pastor does know them I've seen them embellish. My fiance's mother just passed two weeks ago unexpectedly and during the service the priest talked about how she prayed the Rosary every day, yeah, never happened, and how the heck would he know? It was still a nice service and the priest did a nice job.

    Worst one I ever saw was one where the pastor kept forgetting the deceased's name and using his son's name instead.

  4. Mike, sorry to hear of your fiance's mother.

    I hate to confess this, but I did a funeral a couple of years ago and got her name wrong a few times in the ceremony. I've had nightmares about this happening, but I actually got to live it that time. I felt really terrible but the family was nice, and said the deceased had a sense of humor and would have thought it was funny.