In the aftermath of my Mom’s death a new question popped in my mind. The question came from a discussion with my Mom 3 years ago. In short she asked me where will my funeral be held given the chaos of modern day evangelicalism? That question haunts me today given the issues that exist in modern day evangelicalism.
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
“Say not in grief he is no more – but live in thankfulness that he was.”
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NLT
My Mom’s funeral at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fresno, California
About three years or so ago in California I was talking with Mom. We were having a discussion and she changed the topic. In a reference to my situation about differing churches she came out and asked me “David I have no idea who to contact if there was an emergency. Which minister or even which church to contact for a funeral? Where is your funeral going to be one day?” I was taken back by the question and found it deeply uncomfortable. At the time I had no idea as to what to say. After all I never thought of my own funeral. My Mom’s question was largely forgotten until recently.
An Unexpected Death and Planning My Mom’s Funeral
My Mom’s death was unexpected. It threw me off guard to the point that I had to shop and get cloths. I only planned to travel and be in California for about 4 days or so. Now I had to get additional clothes. Plus I would also have to get clothes for the funeral. My intention was to get my Mom back on track, help her, and leave for D.C. knowing she was on the path of recovery. That did not happen. On Saturday March 25, 2017 at St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno the physician treating my Mom spoke to me. He said that I should stay longer and that it was a difficult situation. I had to cancel my plane ticket and re-book. This was the first of three times of doing this due to the sudden change of events.
On April 1, 2016 at 6:24 in the evening my Mom died. It was before my eyes in the third floor of the ICU in bed 11. I watched the blood pressure go down, her pulse grow weak and her heart stop beating. I was a mess in sobbing over my Mom. To describe what a death is like and the hardship is something that I can’t. I feel like a part of me died with my Mom. I am permanently changed and physically I feel different. Its unlike a grief I have never experienced, Recently someone shared with me an article in The Guardian, which is a newspaper from London I believe. I would encourage you to read “We don’t ‘lose’ our mothers – the reality is more violent than that.”
Amidst the pain, the tears and the trauma what was helpful is having a relationship with a church to lean upon. My family is Roman Catholic and I grew up as one. During this time Monsignor Pat McCormick of my parents Holy Spirit Catholic church agreed to do the funeral. My family has known him for about 30 years. He is established in the Fresno Diocese. The funeral home handled all the arrangements as well. But I was comforted and amazed in watching the local Catholic church spring into action. The monsignor quickly moved to do the funeral. The church changed part of its plans and made the hall accessible. The fact that they did this during Holy week meant a lot to my family in grief. On the spot an overworked Catholic priest had breakfast with me to talk about death and grieving and what to expect. Watching all this and seeing it up close was helpful. In a time of deep uncertainty and pain I felt like I had something to lean upon. My family was also comforted by all these efforts by the local Catholic church. Overall it was helpful to a family in deep pain. To have such a relationship with a church was beyond helpful.
The Chaos of Modern Evangelicalism
If I think of one word to describe the Catholic church I would use stable. It is not prone to the fads of modern evangelicalism. In Catholicism there is no such things like the Left Behind craze, the Prayer of Jabez fad, the Neo-Calvinist movement or more. It stays pretty much the same and it is solid and stable. Now in contrast if I were to think of one word to describe evangelicalism it would be chaos. I say chaos because the evangelical world is deeply unstable. It violently lurches from one craze to the next fad. For example that is what the evangelical world saw with the Left Behind fad, the Prayer of Jabez movement, and the Neo-Calvinist craze. There is no stability in a movement that keeps changing and defining what is doctrine is, and what church is. In this case there is also the many problems in many local churches as well. You have shifting doctrine in local churches. Yet others are addicted to the idea of a new building and having a building campaign. Many can’t be content with what they have but always want more and more. In some churches you can’t easily see the pastor and he can often have no idea who you are. Then you have the mega church movement in which you are but a number. Your ultimate purpose I would propose is to feed money into the system and support it. This issue happens in many evangelical churches amidst many theological movements. It cannot be contained to either a charismatic, Pentecostal, Baptist, or Neo-Calvinist environment. It is what it is, and its the sad reality of much of evangelicalism.
Using Fairfax Community Church as an Example
To make my point of how unstable a church can be let me use the last one I left. This will be an analysis of the issues inside Fairfax Community Church (FCC) in Fairfax, Virginia. At FCC they were a church that became more consumed with growth than in helping or loving people. To Rod Stafford people became a means to an end, almost like his personal ATM. When you were at FCC trying to meet with people became difficult if not impossible. You would get bounced around from person to person. Honestly FCC could be more bureaucratic than the Department of Veterans Affairs. The other issues dealt with authoritarianism which exhibited itself in Andy Gingrich‘s leadership. Andy as I learned could be personally controlling and very authorterian. In my belief he should not be a pastor. Then you also had the situation with Eric Nickle. FCC had employed a violent sex offender and hid that from the church. They concealed it and did not let people know that Eric was on the Virginia sex offender registry. You can read more about that in “Why Does Fairfax Community Church have a Care Director on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry?”
So let’s translate all the above problems in the context of death and a funeral. Would I want my funeral to take place at a church like FCC? Short answer…no. Here is why. Why would you want a minister (Rod Stafford) to preside over your funeral? After all when the pastor didn’t have time for you when you were living, why would you let him lead your service? In addition how can someone who really does not know you do your funeral? Why would you want someone who was authorterian like Andy Gingrich to be involved in your funeral? If he didn’t respect you in life do you think he will respect you in death? In a church that can’t take care of people and people leave frustrated why would a church want to do a funeral? Are they that greedy for the money? Finally then you have the Eric Nickle situation. What would you do when you are having an intimate family funeral..tell the kids to stay home and away from the funeral as the would be safer? If I had died I wouldn’t trust a place like FCC to handle my funeral. If they can’t minister to you in life, they will be unable to get it right in death.
What Options do I Have?
So what options do I have? Getting back to my Mom’s question…where will my funeral be held at? Honestly….I don’t know. It does make mainstream Protestantism and the Catholic church much more attractive. After all in those situations you can have something to put your back against. A funeral in many ways is for closure for those who are left behind. But given the chaos and deep issues in evangelicalism where is one supposed to go? What is one supposed to do? I don’t know. This is still a deeply difficult question that weighs on me today. My Mom’s death brought this question roaring back and its a challenging one. Well that is it for the day. Please know I love you guys!