In Praise of Southern Baptists, Part One (Bet Some of You Never Thought I’d Use THAT Headline)

Cemetery and Church

Photo by Keichwa, Creative Commons

I grew up Southern Baptist, and am currently an active member in good standing of a Southern Baptist Church. And I criticize the denomination from time to time. But today I want to praise them for something they do well:

Funerals

I bet I know what you’re thinking:

  1. This is a morbid topic for the day after Christmas
  2. Aren’t Baptists the ones who always feel the need to have an invitation and altar call at funerals?
  3. Don’t liturgical denominations have more meaningful, beautiful rituals?

Maybe it is a little morbid, but it’s what I’m writing about today. 🙂

As for the altar calls, as crass as it seems sometimes, it makes sense given the strong belief in the need for a conversion experience. On the one hand, it can be offensive, but on the other hand many people grieve without hope, and may find hope and life transformation in an encounter with God.

It’s hard to fault a preacher for trying to provide an avenue to such an encounter. The methods are sometimes heavy-handed, and that’s worthy of criticism, but the motive and the action itself is good.

As for the service itself, I’m not sure. I haven’t been to that many liturgical funerals. But I’m really not talking about the “official funeral” where the preacher or other officiant says a few words and someone sings a song or two. I’m talking about the time before and after.

Baptists live by one maxim, if no other: nobody should have to cook and grieve at the same time.

Food pours in: casseroles, chicken, roasts, salads, vegetables, desserts, enough to last at least a week. And it keeps coming, so that when the first batch is eaten or gone stale, a second wave arrives.

The entire extended family is brought into the church and fed by the church members either before or after the funeral.  This gives them a collective time to grieve and visit.

Too often in our globalized, far-flung society, funerals are the only times we get the whole family together. That time needs to be spent together, not making arrangements for food.

This sounds trivial. But as someone who’s been on both sides of it, I can tell you it is not. It is a powerful part of the healing process, and one that I’ve taken for granted for a long time.

I used to think it was universal, but it has recently come to my attention that it is not. And that blew my mind. You mean other groups, other churches don’t do this? It seems so basic.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re certainly not the only ones that do this. The Jewish tradition of Shiva is similar, though perhaps less informal. Lots of other churches and groups do the same, with varying degrees of formality.

But not everyone. Not every church member in every church in the world or even America gets this kind of treatment. Not every church community pulls together and spends not only its money but its time to aid the grieving process.

And so I want to praise the denomination that takes care of its grieving so well and so consistently that I assumed everyone did it.

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