Opinion – The place of the funeral in the life of the church

Home Focus Opinion – The place of the funeral in the life of the church

Churches are and have always been the beacon of hope in all communities; they are the “salt of the earth” the vital role player within the fellowship of faith and most often in the larger societal wellbeing. It has been well established that the church functions are to take care of the vulnerable, the sick and the spiritual welfare of the congregation, through counselling, teaching and pastoral care.  It is through the church that baptism, confirmation, marriage, funerals and many more essential activities are being exercised. 

Of the above mentioned activities and many more, funeral remain one of the setting in which the church can ever be present, and It is generally accepted that the Pastor serve as the primary representative of the church and is expected to be a principle participant in the funeral event. In his book, ‘The funeral and the mourners’, Paul Irion describes the Pastor in the following fashion:
He is the leader of the congregation, employed by the church to be an administrator, a preacher, a teacher, a counsellor, and a representative of the church in society. 

He is the leader of worship in the church. It is his responsibility to conduct the services and the rites of the church for the benefit of the congregation and the community”.  Translating this in a worship community he is the “shepherd of the sheep”. 
Recorded history reveals that most civilizations, however simple or complex, practised some form of funeral rituals and the Pastor as a participant play an essential role in sending off the deceased, having established a theological foundation concerning death we can now place the funeral event into a practical Namibian context for instance, Herero people those of the Ancestral Believe when they encounter death in the family, before the body is taken to the holy fire to be received by ancestors, the pastor is called in to bless the body and at the cemetery the Pastor send off the deceased.

Paul Irion rightly suggests that such ceremonies have two major purposes: “to separate the body of the deceased from the community of the living and to assist the mourners in adjusting to their loss.” 

He further states in the same text that the funeral is a social event in which the bereaved are surrounded by a sympathetic community which “shares something of their loss and join with them in marking the end of the relationship of the person with dignity”.
It is therefore essential for us to realise that bereavement is a shared, experience, and the mourners’ needs often are best met within the context of a supportive community. Looking at it from the Covid-19 perspective although the church is still the centre of funeral events, norms and procedures have been interrupted reducing the number of funeral attendees to not more than 50 persons, from the initial 10, within the Namibian borders, but this was badly received by many as huge crowds at public places and funerals were observed during the first week of the second phase of the state of emergency, (Confidente 14-20 May 2020, pp13).

Even though the routinised stereotype, rituals or ceremonies may possibly be dysfunctional to the primary survivors of the death, the deceased ought to be given a proper and befitting funeral and the loved ones should receive respect and comfort in the midst of Covid-19 regulations and not doing this, it will cause a more traumatic and stressful emotional pain for friends and family members of the deceased as they are interrelated.

Therefore it is crystal clear that funeral is the setting in which the church mark the conclusion of a life in a most personal way within the supportive presence of a caring community, it is not an isolated event, It is an integral part of the faith communities around the world.