Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Presume Nothing: Closing Our With an AXIOS!

When first ordained, DPC was placed in charge of a small, inner-city congregation of no more than 30 people on a Sunday. The church had been without an incumbent for about 3 years prior to DPC’s arrival, and had been making do with supply priests. Within a week of my arrival, DPC’s phone rang. A long-time parishioner had died, and the funeral needed to be planned. Cue a sit down with the family, working through the readings with them, asking whether or not they wanted a celebration of the Holy Eucharist as part of the liturgy, and what they needed at the reception. The process was a
That many funerals? Who knew DPC was chaplain to Spinal Tap Drummers?
whirlwind, but the funeral and the following reception turned out lovely. Two days later, the phone rang again. Yet another funeral. About three weeks after that, there was a third. The funerals came fast and heavy - DPC presided or preached at something like 13 funerals in DPC’s first year of ordained ministry. Evidently there must have been something about being the new incumbent in a parish that sends ripples through space-time, sending up some sort of deathly bat-signal from the rectory of the parish, much to the delight of the local funeral director. Thirteen funerals, in a parish with an ASA of 30. It was intense.

As tired as DPC may have been of presiding at funerals that year, DPC learned quickly the importance of solid planning, one-on-one discussion with the family and friends of the deceased, and a sensitivity to the unique contours of each individual service. But, without fail, being attentive, and loving, and kind in the planning of a burial may have been the single greatest act of Pastoral Care DPC performed that year. Planning and celebrating a funeral well is one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest gifts, of pastoral ministry. GBEC seems to know this.

Set 6: Christian Worship
Open Resources
Scenario: The inner-city church where you serve has a regular population of homeless people nearby. Several of them drop in for warmth or shelter and sometimes attend worship, especially the service that precedes the regular weekday soup kitchen. Several are known to some of the congregation, at least in a “hello in passing” relationship. One of these homeless folks, a woman in her early 30s called Josie, dies suddenly. Among her effects are a well-thumbed Book of Common Prayer and Bible. A member of her family will cover expenses and has asked you to make arrangements for her funeral.

The events after her death should include the Burial of the Dead service itself (burial office alone vs. burial office with Eucharist, and who will give a homily), plus at least one of these: vigil, reception of the body, graveside committal, or a reception following the liturgy.

In the first half of your answer, give a cogent explanation for your choices of liturgies, rites and events. How would you arrive at various decisions about your choices, and whom might you invite to help?

In the second half of your answer, provide an outline/chart/or service bulletin for the Burial Office listing your choices for liturgical texts, scriptural readings, and musical elements, if any. Give references for specific readings, hymns, service music, etc., with the rationale for your choices. Give these by page number, hymnal number, or specific scriptural citation rather than quoting the texts themselves. In addition to the Book of Common Prayer, you may use the Enriching Our Worship series and any of the authorized hymnals.

During the year of 13 funerals, about half of the deceased were people with a “hello in passing” relationship to DPC’s parish. GBEC describes a very real scenario of pastoral ministry: someone with some level of connection to the church, albeit it not a well-defined one, passes away, and a family member, knowing “she’s an Episcopalian,” calls up the closest church to prepare for a funeral. So the work turns to organizing and planning the service and caring for the family. And the church being the church - we do just that.

GBEC has structured this question quite well. They require each examinee to deal with the questions that happen in the earliest conversations about a church burial - Eucharist or no? Who preaches? Is there going to be any kind of family member or friend speaking, and how will it be handled? Burial or cremation? Is there a reception, and if so, what is its function? What are the right readings and hymns to use? The question realistically expects that examinees’ liturgical plans conform to the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer and other General Convention-authorized resources, while still expecting that the choices be pastorally sensitive to the contours of Josie’s untimely death. GBEC rightly realizes that responding fully to this death - or any death  - will likely also include planning additional offerings around the burial liturgy, such as a reception, wake, or graveside service; they duly ask examinees to plan one of these offerings as well.

Perhaps best of all, GBEC doesn’t presume a right answer, save for following the rubrics, and exhibiting proper pastoral sensitivity. They seem to know what DPC has learned in conducting many
Like Sherlock, GBEC presumes nothing.
funerals: Some funerals just don’t need Eucharist. Some really do. Some funerals should be in Rite I language. Some really shouldn’t. Some families will be emotionally able to participate in being lectors and intercessors. Some won’t. Some family members may be capable of giving a meaningful reflection on the life of the deceased in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. Some won’t. And the right answer in one funeral plan won’t necessarily be the right answer in another.
And this questions gets that, and doesn’t fight that reality.

While the scenario presented, as designed, feels a bit imagery and feelings-heavy and designed to pull at the heartstrings of the examinee (“they found among her effects the well-thumbed pages of Josie’s BCP and bible”), the requested information and process that follows the scenario is what happens - or rather, what should happen - for every funeral. And everyone being ordained should be able to plan and execute a meaningful burial liturgy that follows the rubrics and exhibits pastoral sensitivity to the needs of those will attend it.

Axios, GBEC. This questions manages to be imminently practical, and manages not to be overly restrictive. It allows the examinee to use their own creativity and imagination, within the limits of our BCP and EOW liturgies, to meet the pastoral needs of a given situation. And examinees, file the plans you write for this answer away. You may find yourself needing them someday. 

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty and DPC to ride off into the sunset on this year's GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for ably filling in this year.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

At times DPC has had some hard words for how these questions have been posed.  Crusty doesn't expect DPC to apologize.  People who have little agency in this system -- the students taking this exam -- are the ones whose processes towards ordination hang in the balance.  COD doesn't think students should be the ones holding the bag for poor questions.  One of the reasons Crusty started blogging the GOEs was because taking the GOEs was one of the loneliest and dis-empowering things he ever had to go through: get question, walk home, write question, hand in question; repeat.  Spend evenings nervously wondering that you were the only person that wasn't sure about your answer.  Then get an envelope in the mail and everyone was afraid to share their results, either ashamed they didn't do well or guilty they did do well.  Crusty swore that if he could one day make the GOEs a less opaque, anxiety-inducing, dehumanizing and lonely experience, he would do it.  And yea, it came to pass.

As for saying some hard things; well, too bad, sunshine.  Crusty has worked for over 15 years full-time in the church, and drafted documents and resolutions and concordats and proposals, and has had people say worse things than anything written here.  Crusty's been told he doesn't understand Anglicanism, that's he's a raging liberal, that he's a brain dead conservative, that "he has sold the apostolic heritage of Anglicanism for a mess of Protestant lentils," and so on.  Crusty's always been willing to be held accountable for what he has put before the church, and expects nothing less from others.

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. 

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