As a pastor, I have usually have positive experiences with funeral homes and funeral director. One of the first funerals I ever did, as an ordained pastor, was memorable.
A well known hometown gentleman died young, and his family contacted me and a retired minister on staff at my church to officiate the service. As the two of us are about to begin the funeral, a wife of a pallbearer came up to me and asked if it would be acceptable for her to sit with her husband during the service. I looked into the sanctuary and saw that all the pallbearers were to sitting on the front row, and I really thought nothing of it for her to sit with her husband (and the other pallbearers) during such an emotional time.
Boy, I was wrong.
The funeral director came up to me and asked why I let her do that. I explained that it is a difficult time for the family and I would want to have my wife with me if I was going through a difficult time. The funeral director replied quickly,
“That messes up the plan. It doesn’t look right for her to sit with all the other pallbearers. She isn’t even an immediate family member.” I apologized and politely said that it might not look right to him, but to the family it means a lot.
“Who do you think is in charge here?” He said aggressively. I could immediately sensed that this funeral director was feeling threatened by me, a young whipper-snapper. I thought in my mind of all of the conceivable things to say to this man, who was being a jerk, quite frankly.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but here at this church we are very concerned about people, and not about looks.” I said. The funeral director got in my face, real close, about 6 inches away. His face was bright red. Like a stop sign.I could smell his after shave he was so close. I think it was Brut.
“We are the funeral company here!” He said with anger. I could sense that this man was about to come to blows with me. I thought I saw him make a fist. Was I going to return fire? I could read the headlines, Pastor Assaults Jerk Funeral Director. I tried to calmly say with all restraint, “We are the church that is holding the funeral. We try to comfort people here, we try be understanding to grieving families, and we do our hardest to be considerate of that. I don’t think it is problem to let a grieving women sit with her husband.”
The funeral director raised his voice, “I’m funeral director here… you can’t just let people do whatever they want!”
At this point, I wish I could say I did something pastoral like hug the man and tell him that Jesus loves him (I think he would of hit me in the face if I did that). He was still about 6 inches away from my face. I got about an inch or two closer to him to let him know I was not scared of him (probably not a good idea as a pastor). I sensed that this man got angry a lot and I had to let him know I was not going to be beaten down by a bully — but not cause a riot either.
“Look, I know your the funeral director, but that does not give you liberty to get pushy and be rude!” Just then, the director’s eyes open wide and he was shocked, but quickly put an angry face on. He start to motion and open his mouth… Just as he was starting to do that, the retired minister (who had been next to me the whole time) walked in between us, rolled his eyes, and said, “Let’s start this thing… we are running late.” Later, I found out that I was not the first pastor or person to have a “run in” with that funeral director. He had a rep for being angry, confrontational, and difficult.
To be honest, I was upset with him because of his insistence of having things look right rather than caring for people. In ministry, we pastors and leaders must shepherd people… including the angry ones. It was incredible difficult to remain rational in the face of the irrational.
Thank God the retired minister was there. It is funny how God’s grace shows up even in places of tension and anger. I found out that I needed a shepherd (the retired minister) to shepherd me through this ordeal. I realized that day that we pastors cannot control outcomes when it comes to people and ministry.
Thankfully, God made a way for the funeral to go on and I didn’t make the newspaper headlines that day.