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New Book by Dr.

Thomas Long Calls for a Return to Christian Funeral Traditions From The Bulletin of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, Sep-Oct 2009 Dr. Thomas G. Long, is the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA. Professor Long has written numerous books and commentaries including The Witness of Preaching, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship, and Hebrews (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). He has done extensive research on the theology and practice of Christian funerals, and his latest book, Accompany Them with Singing - The Christian Funeral, will be available in mid-October. Thomas Lunch, author of The Undertaking has written, “To a culture accustomed to ‘obsequies-lite,’ Dr. Long prescribes a full-bodied, liturgical and community theater—funerals equipped for the heavy lifting of Christianity—acting out our faith and humanity, bearing our dead to the brink of real and eternal life. Accompany Them With Singing is an indispensible and luminous guide for clergy, families, funeral directors— all home-going pilgrims—on how we ought to deal with death by dealing with our dead.” Dr. Long recently spoke with The Bulletin in an exclusive interview in which he discussed his new book, the historical development of the Christian funeral and recent cultural trends in funeral practices. Please tell us more about your background. Long: “I began as a Presbyterian minister, the pastor of a church in Atlanta, GA, where I was born. I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the seminary I attended as its professor of preaching—Erskine Theological Seminary in South Carolina. I did my preparation at Princeton University’s Princeton Theological Seminary where I earned my Ph.D. From Erskine, I went to Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. In 1983, I returned to Princeton where I was professor of preaching for 15 years. I then had the opportunity to head up one of the publishing corporations of the Presbyterian Church. In 2000, I accepted a position at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology where I am today.” What are the most important things you seek to instill in your students? Long: “I focus on two things in regard to the formation of preachers, and they are somewhat at odds with each other. The first is a sense of the awesomeness of the task of preaching. It is not simply getting up in front of the Rotary Club and giving an after-dinner speech. Preaching is bringing to bear the wisdom of Scripture on the faith community. So, on the one hand, I want them to tremble a bit when they get into the pulpit, having taken on this sacred task. On the other hand, I want them to have humility about it. There is an artfulness, even a playfulness, to constructing a sermon that is sometimes missing in preaching. People can take themselves all too seriously and have false solemnity. So I want them to develop the playfully creative side while, at the same time, recognizing the awesomeness of the responsibility. “I think this is especially important in the American church scene. Preaching can so easily dissolve into a kind of self-help wisdom, and I want them to overcome that. I think most of us who teach preaching take a sort of a triage approach. There are born preachers, and we just get out of their way. They have an intuitive sense and a real gift for it. Then there are those who may be called into ministry of some kind, but preaching is not one of their skills. It’s the group in the middle where we can make an impact—those who may not be polished but have enough raw talent with which to work. “However, there is another ingredient. Preaching is a form of public rhetoric, and it therefore rises and falls with public rhetoric in general. We are starting to emerge from a time of low public rhetoric, and you can see that in the political arena. Whether you agree or disagree with President Barrack Obama, you have to admit he has raised the level of the political rhetoric in this country. And I think that's going to have an effect on the

pulpit as well. It's sometimes difficult to teach preaching in an age when the television commands the rhetorical center stage. A hundred years ago, orators commanded that spot and provided the models for public rhetoric. “I’ve been reading Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America and about how the LincolnDouglas debates played a role in the historical background of the end of the Civil War. What an event that was in American life for these two orators to face each other! Compare that to the kind of diminution of rhetoric that takes place in debates today where everyone is afraid of making a mistake. But Lincoln and Douglas soared when they got on the public stage, and that provided models for ministry. And ministry also provided models for political rhetoric. The Gettysburg Address is actually based on a funeral sermon—the sort of eulogizing ministers were trained to do in the 19th century. Garry Wills, in his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, makes the point that Lincoln had in mind the cadence and basic structure of a funeral eulogy.” Of which of your books are you most proud? Long: “I have been very gratified by the reception of a basic textbook I wrote a number of years ago and have revised twice called The Witness of Preaching. In many seminaries around the world, it is the standard textbook for the basic class in preaching. It's not my most soaring prose; it’s a basic textbook. But in terms of effectiveness and impact, it probably is the most far-reaching work I've ever done. The other piece I will mention was for a prominent series of biblical commentaries. I was commissioned to write on the Book of Hebrews—probably the most theologically difficult book in the New Testament. It stretched me, but I'm proud of what ended up on the page. Pastors who never would have preached a sermon on the Book of Hebrews, because it is so forbidding and difficult, have ventured into it because of that commentary.” Which authors have inspired you? Long: “Anne Tyler, in her book Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, has been a powerful literary inspiration for me because she has a unique capacity to describe human beings and the conditions of their lives—all of the warts revealed. But she does so with tender compassion, deep empathy and forgiveness for her characters. I don’t think I’ve arrived at that point, but I have certainly been moved by her ability to see the depth of human beings and have compassion for them. “The writer who has inspired me the most in the area of funeral research is Thomas Lynch. He writes the most miraculous, liquid prose; it’s very beautiful and witty. He has a great deal of the Irish poet about him and an innate theological grasp of things. When I was doing research for Accompany Them with Singing, I read everything I could get my hands on about death, especially in the theological world. When I read Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, I felt he, as a funeral director, has written the best theological book on funerals and death. He's been a powerful inspiration to me.” How did you come to write Accompany Them with Singing? Long: “The idea for the book started when I was teaching at Princeton. Among other things, I was teaching a basic course in worship in which we covered everything that a minister would be expected to do in terms of leadership. There were sections on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, prayer, etc.; and there were plenty of good resources for all of them except on the funeral. There was plenty of material available about grief, but the last good book on the funeral itself was The Funeral. Vestige or Value? written by Paul Irion in 1954. It was a first-rate, state-of-the-art work about Christian faith and funerals at that time, and it was one of the first books written in what we now call the field of practical theology, where you start with the lived experience and then work to find the theological implications. “But The Funeral: Vestige or Value? was dated by the time I was starting my interest. It assumed a relationship with the church that our society no longer holds. The grief process was just beginning to make its

way into the literature, and Paul's work was attentive to that. But I thought it was time for an update, so that’s what I started out to do. I received a Henry Luce III fellowship for the book and began travelling across the country from Florida to Alaska assembling groups of ministers, funeral directors, cemetery owners and hospice workers—anyone dealing with death in any way. “I was trying to map the ritual life of America in terms of death. I found some very interesting things in the research and was able to confirm that we are a very diverse nation in terms of death practices—from region to region and sometimes even within communities. But I also found an underlying change in direction that was happening in American life. The surface manifestations were fairly well-known—the rise in cremation rate, the rise in the personalization of funerals, the downsizing and minimizing of religious rituals. You could find exceptions to this, but it was more or less happening across the country. People noticed it and had opinions about it, but there was no coherent understanding of what was happening. I realized I had bitten off a fairly large project at that point and began to do further research. I worked with NFDA committees, talked to various experts and read everything I could get my hands on. “And then what I found in my research caused me to undergo a kind of ‘conversion experience’ about the ritualizing of death. It took me over a dozen years to finally create the book, but I ended up writing against the position I started out with, which was to applaud, almost without qualification, the move toward the funeral as a facilitation of the grief process. I was going to write a good Protestant manual for ministers on how to provide a more tender, caring, grief-sensitive funeral. But I discovered in my research that in the last hundred years, there has been a profound metaphor shift in most religious communities regarding an understanding of the funeral—one that I think is not altogether good and involves significant loss. “Here it is in a nutshell. For over 1,800 years, the primary metaphor of a Christian funeral was the deceased as a baptized saint who has been on a lifelong, baptismal journey of faith toward God, and the days of death are the last mile of that journey. The funeral is the Christian community traveling with the saint during that last mile. It’s a fairly simple picture, but it’s actually very profound theologically. It involves notions of what Christians would call sanctification and the concept that who we will be in our future is revealed but not fully determined in the present—that we are traveling toward a new reality. It involves honoring the body and the identity of the deceased, but it also involves the deceased moving toward a new community—the communion of saints. So the funeral becomes a piece of ‘community theater’ in which people act out what they believe about life and death. It is very public and profound, and it has deep traditions. And it provides care and consolation for the grieving, but it’s not focused on that. That happens as an intrinsic part of the process. “Then a hundred years ago or so, we could no longer find ways to make sense out of the old metaphor, so it shifted. In many contemporary funerals or memorial services, it’s no longer the deceased but the mourner who is traveling. And it’s no longer a theological and public journey but an intra-psychic journey. So the rituals of death began to shift away from the deceased and move toward the mourner, focusing on grief management. I felt this was a big loss not only for the faith community but also for the human community as a whole. It opens the door for a very private, individualistic service that are turned in on itself. It also allows for what Tom Lynch points out—that we are the first generation for whom, at funerals, the presence of the body of the deceased is now optional. “Well, we are not going to go back to the 5th century or the 12th or even the 19th. But I did set myself the task of discovering what it would mean if we were to recover the power of that original metaphor but apply it to the real circumstances in which we commemorate our dead today—a highly mobile, highly personalized society. So that’s what the book is about. It is, in part, a recovery of an ancient tradition in very new and different context.” It’s been said your book pulls no punches.

Long: “Readers will find the book very critical of a couple things. First is the disembodied spirituality that infects the Christian church, especially Protestantism. Any time the Christian faith gets near embodiment today, our best and brightest Christians become allergic to it. They don’t like the institutional church, they don’t like creeds and they don’t like bodies at funerals. In fact, you can make a long list of ways that embodiment is now a no-no for folks. “In the book, I trace that all the way back to the tug-of-war of the neo-platonic environment in which Christianity developed. Roman society did not like bodies, especially dead ones. But to the Christian faith, which believed the game had been changed by Jesus in terms of embodiment—that God had become flesh and dwelt in the world—this was the blessing of embodiment. “I quote scholars like Margaret Miles who has done research on the embodiment struggle in early Christianity. One of the things she found that scandalized early Roman society about the Christian movement was its commitment to bodies—not only the bodies of the poor, the weak and the sick but also the bodies of the dead. They reverenced dead bodies in a way that Romans found repulsive. Educated Romans knew that the practice of throwing the deceased poor into a common ditch (which was regularly done) was not good aesthetically, so they formed burial societies. But the Romans did not do the work. Only Christians would actually bury the bodies because of their commitment to the embodiment notion of incarnation. “In the book, I address very strongly how our modern antipathy to bodies is destructive to our faith in many ways. But what would happen if we took hold of the commitment to embodiment in our own traditions? “I also believe that serving bereaved families is more than just focusing on bereavement. It is recognizing that the real hunger at the time of death is not for closure or for comfort, although those are important; it is for meaning. And if we can help make sense of death, then we ultimately can provide comfort at an even deeper level than simply the psychological comfort that is often viewed today as the primary task of the funeral.” How do you view funeral directors fitting into this? Long: “I have a very profound respect for the funeral professionals I have met and for the partnership we share, so my first words are ‘thank you’ to most funeral directors for what they are doing. There is a lot at stake for both funeral directors and clergy in overcoming the notion that the god of the funeral planning process is consumer choice on the part of the bereaved family. I think families will be better served if funeral directors and clergy recognize that most families in our culture today don’t know how to choose what will be most helpful to them. So funeral directors and clergy need to be clear about what a good funeral is what traditions have been forgotten. It’s a very amnesiac time for families, and funeral directors and clergy need to work together to help people recover their memories before they make choices. “I also want us to overcome the sometimes mutual antipathy that occurs between funeral professionals and pastors. It’s going to require some give and-take on both sides. I think most pastors do not understand the kind of sophisticated business model that most funeral homes operate by today. They simply think of it as an overpriced rip-off agency, and that sometimes the pastor’s job is to become a consumer advocate for their congregation. That’s just a dated notion in many cases. “I do question the label of ‘funeral director.’ If someone were to set up a business called Sullivan & Sons Baptism Directors, we would think that strange. So I want the church to get a sense of its own worship back. I suggest, maybe a little playfully, that the best term for a funeral professional is ‘undertaker,’ in the sense that there are ritual tasks that families are no longer equipped to do. And we need caring, trained, intelligent people to undertake those tasks. I call it a partnership where both funeral professionals and ministers are focused on the community theater being performed. We need to work together so that families can accomplish the many tasks involved. They, as well as churches and society as a whole, will be better if we do this well.

“Mark Higgins of Selected member firm Hall-Wynne Funeral Service, Durham, NC, has said it about as well as anyone, ‘There’s nothing more educational for a community than a funeral done well.’ It’s better than those classes we do on planning your funeral. The best education for the community is to do one right, and it’s so stunning, breathtaking and profound that it sets an example of what can be done; and people start changing their minds about how to do it. “Mark read the manuscript of my book, and the first chance he had to put it into practice was with a family in Durham. They were going to choose the typical funeral arrangements as everyone else. Mark said that was fine, but he suggested an alternative and basically spent some time teaching them about the baptismal journey—that it would involve bringing the body into the church (which had not been done for ten years in that congregation). The family readily agreed, and the church funeral was very powerful. People were overcome by how amazing it was.” What do you hope readers will take away from your book? Long: “In my grandest dreams, I would love to shift the metaphor for practicing pastors and their congregations back to the concept of the title of the book. Accompany Them with Singing comes from a fourthcentury rubric that says, in funerals, we are to accompany the deceased with singing. We walk with them along the way, singing as we take them to God. If metaphor were to come back, several things would happen. First of all, the deceased would come back to their own funerals either as casketed bodies or cremated remains. It is important to have the body there as an actor in this drama. I would love to see the journey motif restored to funerals, so that we don't think of a funeral as going to a room, sitting down for 45 minutes and thinking about life and death. We get up on stage and act out what we believe about life and death.”

NEW BOOK CALLS FOR RETURN OF CHRISTIAN FUNERAL TRADITIONS
Dr. Thomas G. Long is the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA. Professor Long has written numerous books and commentaries including The Witness of Preaching, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship, and Hebrews (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). He has done extensive research on the theology and practice THOMAS G. LONG, of Christian funerals, and his latest PHD, MDIV book, Accompany Them with Singing—The Christian Funeral, will be available in midOctober. Dr. Long recently spoke with The Bulletin in an exclusive interview in which he discussed his new book, the historical development of the Christian funeral and current cultural trends in funeral practices.
Please tell us more about your background.

The Funeral. Vestige or Value? written by Paul Irion in 1954. It was a first-rate, state-of-the-art work about Christian faith and funerals at that time, and it was one of the first books written in what we now call the field of practical theology, where you start with the lived experience and then work to find the theological implications. “But The Funeral: Vestige or Value? was dated by the time I starting my interest. It assumed a relationship with the church that our society no longer holds. The grief process was just beginning to make its way into the literature, and Paul’s work was attentive to that. But I thought it was time for an update. After receiving a Henry Luce III fellowship for the book, I began travelling across the country from Florida to Alaska assembling groups of ministers, funeral directors, cemetery owners and hospice workers—anyone dealing with death in any way.

Selected is pleased to offer its members a discount on Dr. Long’s new book, based on quantity purchases: 1-4 books: $18.95 ea. (24% discount off retail price of $24.95) 5-19 books: $17.95 ea. (28% discount)

Long: “I began as a Presbyterian minister, the pastor of a church in Atlanta, GA, where I was born. I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the seminary I attended, as its professor of preaching—Erskine Theological Seminary in South Carolina. I did my preparation at Princeton Theological Seminar where I earned my Ph.D. From Erskine, I went to Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. In 1983, I returned to Princeton where I was professor of preaching for 15 years. I then had the opportunity to head up one of the publishing corporations of the Presbyterian Church. In 2000, I accepted a position at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology where I am today.”
What prompted you to write Accompany Them with Singing?

Long: “The idea for the book started when I was teaching at Princeton. Among other things, I was teaching a basic course in worship in which we covered everything that a minister would be expected to do in terms of leadership. There were sections on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, prayer, etc.; and there were plenty of good resources for all of them except on the funeral. There was plenty of material available about grief, but the last good book on the funeral itself was

“I was trying to map the ritual life of America in terms of death. I 20-34 books; $15.95 ea. (36% discount) found some very interesting things in the research and was able to 35+ books: $14.95 ea. confirm that we are a very diverse (40% discount) nation in terms of death practices— For more information from region to region and sometimes or to place an order, even within communities. But I contact the Selected Resources Member also found an underlying change Benefits Program at in direction that was happening 1-800-323-4219. in American life. The surface manifestations were fairly wellknown— rise in cremation rate, rise in the personalization of funerals, downsizing and minimizing of religious rituals. You could find exceptions to this, but it was more or less happening across the country. People noticed it and had opinions about it, but there was no coherent understanding of what was happening. I realized I had bitten off a fairly large project at that point and began to do further research. I worked with NFDA committees, talked to various experts and read everything I could get my hands on.” Continues on page 14

Note: This is a condensed version of Dr. Long’s interview. The complete article is available in the new, members-only Best Practices Exchange online database at http://www.selectedfuneralhomes.org/members/bpx.
SEPTEMBER-OCTOBE R 2 0 0 9 PAG E 9

services, it’s no longer the deceased but the mourner who is traveling. And it’s no longer a theological “Then what I found in my research caused me to and public journey but an intra-psychic journey. undergo a kind of ‘conversion experience’ about the So the rituals of death began to shift away from the ritualizing of death. It took me over a dozen years to deceased and move toward the mourner, focusing on finally create the book, but I ended up writing against grief management. I felt this was the position I started out with, which a big loss not only for the faith was to applaud, almost without “AccompAny Them WiTh Singing community but also for the human OFFERS SUCH WONDERFUL INSIGHTS qualification, the move toward the community as a whole. It opens the AND TOOLS TO THOSE FACILITATING funeral as a facilitation of the grief FUNERAL sERVICEs. WHAT AN door for very private, individualistic process. I was going to write a good OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN WHAT THIs services that are turned in on Protestant manual for ministers OUTSTANDING TEACHER & PREACHER themselves. It also allows for what HAs TO sAY ABOUT THE WORK WHICH on how to provide a more tender, Thomas Lynch points out—that we WE FUNERAL PROFESSIONALS CARE caring, grief-sensitive funeral. But I ABOUT sO PAssIONATELY! WE HAVE are the first generation for whom, at discovered in my research that in the INVITED LOCAL CLERGY TO COME TO funerals, the presence of the body of last hundred years, there has been ONE OF OUR FUNERAL HOMES ON the deceased is now optional. NOV. 17 TO MEET DR. LONG; HEAR a profound metaphor shift in most HIM TALK ABOUT THE BOOK AND HIs religious communities regarding an “Well, we are not going to go ExPERIENCEs; AND RECEIVE A understanding of the funeral—one back to the 5th century or the 12th FREE, sIGNED COPY.” that I think is not altogether good and or even the 19th. But I did set myself Jennifer McBride involves significant loss. the task of discovering what it would Horan & McConaty, Denver, CO mean if we were to recover the power “Here it is in a nutshell. For “NOT sINCE DR. PAUL IRION’s of that original metaphor but apply more than 1,800 years, the primary The FunerAl: VeSTige or VAlue it to the real circumstances in which metaphor of a Christian funeral was HAs THERE BEEN ANY WORK we commemorate our dead today—a SO SIGNIFICANT IN PROMOTING the deceased as a baptized saint who highly mobile, highly personalized AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE has been on a lifelong, baptismal THEOLOGICAL PREMISES OF THE society. So that’s what the book is journey of faith toward God, and the CHRIsTIAN FUNERAL. AccompAny about. It is, in part, a recovery of an Them WiTh Singing IS A TOUR-DEdays of death are the last mile of that ancient tradition in a very new and FORCE BOOK THAT EVERY sELECTED journey. The funeral is the Christian MEMBER MUST READ AND DISTRIBUTE different context.” community traveling with the saint TO THEIR LOCAL CLERGY. GIVEN HIs It’s been said your book during that last mile. It’s a fairly HIGH PROFILE sTATURE, TOM LONG’s URGENT PLEA TO RECOVER LOST pulls no punches. simple picture, but it’s actually very TRADITIONs THAT HAVE GIVEN WAY Long: “Readers will find the profound theologically. It involves TO ‘BODILEss MEMORIALs’ WILL GET book very critical of a couple notions of what Christians would THE ATTENTION OF THE sKEPTICs, AND things. First is the disembodied call sanctification and the concept CHALLENGE AND ENLIGHTEN THEM IN A POWERFUL, COMPELLING WAY. spirituality that infects the Christian that who we will be in our future is I HAVE 125 COPIEs PRE-ORDERED!” church, especially Protestantism. revealed but not fully determined in Mark Higgins Any time the Christian faith gets the present—that we are traveling Hall-Wynne Funeral Service near embodiment today, our best toward a new reality. It involves Durham, NC and brightest Christians become honoring the body and the identity allergic to it. They don’t like the of the deceased, but it also involves institutional church, they don’t like creeds, and they the deceased moving toward a new community—the don’t like bodies at funerals. In fact, you can make a long communion of saints. So the funeral becomes a piece list of ways that embodiment is now a no-no for folks. of ‘community theater’ in which people act out what they believe about life and death. It is very public and “In the book, I trace that all the way back to the profound, and it has deep traditions. And it provides care tug-of-war of the neo-platonic environment in which and consolation for the grieving, but it’s not focused on Christianity developed. Roman society did not like that. That happens as an intrinsic part of the process. bodies, especially dead ones. But to the Christian faith, which believed the game had been changed by Jesus in “Then a hundred years ago or so, we could no longer terms of embodiment—that God had become flesh and find ways to make sense out of the old metaphor, so it dwelt in the world—this was the blessing of embodiment. shifted. In many contemporary funerals or memorial Accompany Them With Singing, from page 7
PAG E 1 4 S E P T E M B E R -OCTOBER 2009

“In the book, I address very strongly how our modern antipathy to bodies is destructive to our faith in many ways. But what would happen if we took hold of the commitment to embodiment in our own traditions?” “I also believe that serving bereaved families is more than just focusing on bereavement. It is recognizing that the real hunger at the time of death is not for closure or for comfort, although those are important; it is for meaning. And if we can help make sense of death, then we ultimately can provide comfort at an even deeper level than simply the psychological comfort that is often viewed today as the primary task of the funeral.”
How do you view funeral directors fitting into this?

people to undertake those tasks. I call it a partnership where both funeral professionals and ministers are focused on the community theater being performed. We need to work together so that families can accomplish the many tasks involved. They, as well as churches and society as a whole, will be better off if we do this well. “Mark Higgins of Hall-Wynne Funeral Service, Durham, NC, has said it about as well as anyone, ‘There’s nothing more educational for a community than a funeral done well.’ It’s better than those classes we do on planning your funeral. The best education for the community is to do one right, and it’s so stunning, breathtaking and profound that it sets an example of what can be done; and people start changing their minds about how to do it. “Mark read the manuscript of my book, and the first chance he had to put it into practice was with a family in Durham. They were going to choose the typical funeral arrangements as everyone else. Mark said that was fine, but he suggested an alternative and basically spent some time teaching them about the baptismal journey—that it would involve bringing the body into the church (which had not been done for ten years in that congregation). The family readily agreed, and the church funeral was very powerful. People were overcome by how amazing it was.”
What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

DR. LONG

Long: “I have a very profound respect for the funeral professionals I have met and for the partnership we share, so my first words are ‘thank you’ to most funeral directors for what they are doing. There is a lot at stake for both funeral directors and clergy in overcoming the notion that the god of the funeral planning process is consumer choice on the part of the bereaved family. I think families will be better served if funeral directors and clergy recognize that most families in our culture today don’t know how to choose what will be most helpful to them. So funeral directors and clergy need to be clear about what a good funeral is and what traditions have been forgotten. It’s a very amnesiac time for families, and funeral directors and clergy need to work together to help people recover their memories before they make choices. “I also want us to overcome the sometimes mutual antipathy that occurs between funeral professionals and pastors. It’s going to require some give and take on both sides. I think most pastors do not understand the kind of sophisticated business model that most funeral homes operate by today. They simply think of it as an overpriced rip-off agency, and that sometimes the pastor’s job is to become a consumer advocate for their congregation. That’s just a dated notion in many cases. “I do question the label of ‘funeral director.’ If someone were to set up a business called Sullivan & Sons Baptism Directors, we would think that strange. So I want the church to get a sense of its own worship back. I suggest, maybe a little playfully, that the best term for a funeral professional is ‘undertaker,’ in the sense that there are ritual tasks that families are no longer equipped to do. And we need carrying, trained, intelligent

Long: “In my grandest dreams, I would love to shift the metaphor for practicing pastors and their congregations back to the concept of the title of the book. Accompany Them with Singing comes from a fourth-century rubric that says, in funerals, we are to accompany the deceased with singing. We walk with them along the way, singing as we take them to God. If that metaphor were to come back, several things would happen. First of all, the deceased would come back to their own funerals either as casketed bodies or cremated remains. It is important to have the body there as an actor in this drama. I would love to see the journey motif restored to funerals, so that we don’t think of a funeral as going to a room, sitting down for 45 minutes and thinking about life and death. We get up on stage and act out what we believe about life and death.”
There is much more information in the complete interview with Dr. Long, available online in the new, members-only Best Practices Exchange database at http://www.selectedfuneralhomes.org/members/bpx.
SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2 0 0 9 PAG E 1 5