Strangers In A Strange Land

Near the end of serving my last church, I helped a family bury their forty-four-year old brother. But he was also son, husband, father, and grandfather. Let’s call him Sam. One of eight children, Sam met and married his wife when they were teenagers. Soon, they gave birth to two daughters. And the daughters had children.

Many at the funeral were under fifty, and quite a few were parents with kids. Throughout the service there were bursts of giggles and sudden loud cries. For the children, a sanctuary was unfamiliar, even unsettling. Like a classroom, but not; like a theater, but not. The adults around them and holding them kept oddly quiet. And maybe the children even noticed that some adults cried. Unlike the children, the adult tears were hidden by a well-placed hand, or accompanied by soft sobbing.

Yes, I’m sure for the children it was a strange experience.

And yet, I think it was more peculiar for the adults. Church, for them, was a foreign land, a country with a border they had likely only crossed at a friend’s wedding, or a funeral like this, or forced Sunday school attendance during adolescence.

Why was I standing before them? I suppose an answer could be that it was a “Methodist thing.” Sam’s oldest brother was part of a United Methodist Church in the Bay Area. When Sam died in Fresno, and with the extended family having no connection with any local church, the brother called. My church was at the crossroads of a web search, a friend’s recommendation, and an ad in the Yellow Pages.

Would you help us bury Sam? Continue reading →