Every time someone in the congregation dies, there is this dread that immediately sets in for pastors (I would also add when someone gets married, but I’ve only had one wedding in 4 1/2 years, so…). What is the source of this dread? Self-centered people and musicians who think that church music is about performing for people. As I am talking on the phone to the funeral director or member of the family for the first time about funeral arrangements, I’m always relieved when we get through the conversation with no mention of “special music.” And believe me, I don’t bring it up if they don’t. But usually the conversation goes something like this: “Well, pastor, I guess that about covers it.” (I’m thinking, “Whew! Great!”). “Okay,” I say. “I guess we’ll see you on…” “Pastor? I forgot. There was one more thing” (I’m thinking, “Oh S_ _t”) “My nephew wants to sing something after the sermon.” “Oh really,” I say as I bash my head several times on my desk. “Great! I have some hymns that he can choose from.” “Uh, pastor, he plays in a band and has a song he wrote for his grandmother.” “I see,” I say calmly as I shove toothpicks up my fingernails. “Well, I need to discuss this music with him.” “Okay, pastor, he’ll be at the viewing tomorrow night.” “Wonderful,” I say in a cheerful tone, as I look around for a window to jump out of, only to realize that my office is in the basement of the church.
So we’re at the viewing tonight (this is real, by the way). I meet “the nephew.” I can tell immediately that he is about 35, plays in a church band at some mega non-denom church with Starbucks in the welcome center. But I’m prepared. I copied off the hymns for him to select from, and take the initiative. “Here are a couple of hym…” “Pastor Paul, or can I just call you Paul.” “Hi, yes, Pastor Beisel is fine.” “I have this song that I wrote for my grandfather when he died and I adapted it for my grandmother. It really means a lot to me. It’s about how she has her wings now, and, well, I just really think it would be nice.” “I’m sorry sir, I understand your desire to share this song with everyone, but I just don’t think it would be appropriate. We don’t believe that people become angels when they die.” And, as I expected, the irenic tone changed immediately to anger and hurt feelings. “Well, uh, I…this is terrible. Maybe I’ll just find someone else to do the funeral.” “I’m sorry sir, I really would love to have you sing, but it will have to be one of these hymns of my choosing.” So the guy comes back up a couple different times huffing and puffing, and making a scene in front of the whole family and friends. I finally make my exit, unable to stop shaking for the next half hour.
So, here is my commentary. Some people just cannot take “no” for an answer. I am unapologetically in charge of what goes on in the services of the church, and I do not have a problem telling people “no.” This makes people mad. Instead of humbly and respectfully approaching me to ask me if it would be okay if they sang something, they come expecting that they deserve the right to be there, no matter what anyone says. It is really quite childish actually. This is nothing but self-centeredness and pride. I have no patience for this kind of attitude. And this, supposedly coming from a “victorious Christian” pop singer. The problem is, I didn’t get the sense that he was going to back down. I think he might actually show up tomorrow with guitar in hand at the church, expecting to play it during the prelude or something. We’ll see. I used to be softer about this kind of thing with funerals and weddings. I listened to the naysayers (even amongst pastors who ought to know better) and gave in a couple of times to songs that probably weren’t heretical, but I didn’t think they were very good. “Oh, just let them have their songs. It’s not going to kill you to have a couple of schmaltzy songs in the service.” Right, it may not kill me, but it may demonstrate to those who come that our church is just like every other Protestant, wishy-washy, TBN following Church.
I don’t give in anymore. Actually, I’m more willing to be lenient if it is a member of the church who is making requests on behalf of their deceased loved one. But in this case, I know I am in the right, and will not budge. “He will make your forehead like flint of steel.”
Update on Funeral: There was a message from the funeral home on the church answering machine this morning saying that the family got together last night and decided to have the funeral at the funeral home, and “my services would not be needed.” This is the third time this has happened to me in the last two years. This is the third person of my congregations whom I have ministered to during the last years of their life that I have not gotten the privilege to bury because of unhappy family members. I wonder if this one will be accompanied by a four page, single-space letter from one of the family members explaining to me how much of a jerk I am. And Jesus said: “Rejoice in that day, and be exceedingly glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”