A seminarian of my acquaintance is doing her first funeral and commital tomorrow. I am so glad that she posted that information on FaceBook with a request for any support, advice, etc. that others might have. Many of her friends wrote, “You’ll be great!” and other supportive sentiments, but she needs and deserves much more than that; she needs real collegial resources.
We just got off the phone after a long conversation about everything from whether or not to throw dirt on the casket to the uncomfortable question of fees for services to crying while presiding to the overall extreme trauma of Clinical Pastoral Education.
I was more than happy to be able to send her the manuscript of a funeral service and commital I thought would work well for her setting. She hasn’t had any seminary classes yet on presiding over special services and had nothing but a book of readings. Whoo boy, it’s way too much to ask of someone who’s working 60+ unpaid hours as a hospital chaplain under clinical supervision to do their job AND figure out how to do a funeral service for the next day!! I did my first funeral as a summer minister in Reading, Massachusetts immediately after I was ordained and had graduated from div school. When someone died, I freaked out and the Rev. Jane Rzepka responded from her vacation to provide me with an outline and manuscript for memorial services that I used for years until I gained more experience and developed a different format. I would have been sunk without her help. All I had at that point was a loose-leaf notebook of readings. Believe it or not, because Harvard offered no courses in Unitarian Universalist liturgy and worship, I had had no training in how to design special services. We covered it briefly in Polity class, but polity and liturgy certainly deserve their own separate courses. Preaching class is also limited; the sermon is just one part of worship and won’t do beans for you in planning a funeral.
Seminarians, newbie colleagues, please: don’t hesitate to ask for help!! Even if you don’t know a UU colleague or hardly know them, give us a call!! Even if we’re on vacation, busy, whatever… don’t go out there alone and inexperienced. We’ve all been there and we really, truly don’t want you to try to figure everything out yourself. That’s not fair.
We’re here for you!