July 01, 2010

Honoring the Dead, Nurturing the Young

What would you do?

Last week, one of my sons attended a Vacation Bible School at a church down the street.  This gave him something to do the first week of summer, and made it a little easier for me to get some work done.  He will also attend our own church's Vacation Bible School, which takes place in a few weeks.

On Monday, the church down the street announced that Vacation Bible School would end with a big potluck and celebration on Friday -- Friday evening, I believe.  (For you midwesterners, "potluck" is what we in California call a "pitch-in.")  But nothing else was said about it on Tuesday or Wednesday.  On Thursday, it was announced that the potluck celebration was cancelled, due to a "very large funeral" that was taking place at the church on Saturday, and the need to set up for it on Friday afternoon.

I'm sure that the decision to cancel the potluck celebration was not made lightly.  Everyone who heard the announcement -- parents and kids -- understood.  But I can't help thinking that it was the wrong decision to make.

I know from my own experience that a week of Vacation Bible School has the potential to be one of the most important programs of a church's entire year.  For many children, attending a well-run VBS is the highlight of their summer, if not their year.  It is a week of a lot of fun, and intense spiritual growth.  For some kids, it's the only spiritual education they receive all year.  I remember a number of years ago when a child -- who was not a member of my church but had attended VBS -- saw me one day and said to me, "I can't wait for Vacation Bible School!"

He said this to me in February

I wonder about the larger message this sends to the community.  It seems to me to be a message that the dead are more important than the living.  The past is more important than the future.  And that is not a message I am comfortable with.

I hope I don't sound too harsh.  Funerals are extremely important events in the lives of families and congregations, perhaps even more so when it is a "very large funeral."  Like Vacation Bible School, funerals can be among the most significant ministry events in the life of a congregation.  But I still can't help but wonder if there was some way to accomodate both events.

At my previous church, I once had a request for a funeral to take place during a week of Vacation Bible School.  I explained to the family that VBS was taking place, and so the church looked a little "different" for the week.  The sanctuary, as I recall, was filled with decorations of construction paper bugs and jungle "vines" to help emphasize the theme of the week (which obviously had something to do with bugs and jungles).  It took a lot of time by many volunteers to set up the sanctuary that way, and I told the family that I would be very happy to officiate at a funeral at the church that week as long as they were comfortable with the unusual decorations.

They were.  In fact, after thinking about it, the family decided that it would probably have made their deceased relative happy, to have her (I think it was a "her") funeral amidst all these signs of new life.  The spiritual education of children was important to her, and I think the family saw it only fitting that her funeral should take place in such an environment.

These are my thoughts.  Others may disagree.  There may come a day when I will be asked to do what the leaders of the church down the street did, and I'm not sure I'll be able to convince anyone to either postpone the funeral, or allow it to take place in between Vacation Bible School activities. 

What would you do?

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