Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Friday, September 07, 2007

Funeral franticness

I mentioned in the last post that the graveside-service-only funeral presented a bit of a challenge for me. It definitely went down as a first for my ministry. Incidentally, I posted a couple of posts ago that Brother Larry was the first death in the congregation since I became head pastor; thinking back, there was another, but she died so shortly after I became pastor that much of the funeral was handled by Bro. Gibbs, since he'd been her pastor for so many years. But now, back to Bro. Larry's burial.

For a graveside service, especially one so little advertized, this one was extremely well-attended. A large number of Wilmington Police and city workers showed up (Bro. Larry had worked with their vehicles for years and apparently developed a strong rapport with them.) Wilmington Christian Academy, where the Vann's daughter goes to school, sent a busload of her classmates and teachers -- a really classy thing to do, I thought, and the only time I've ever seen a yellow school bus at a graveside service. There was also a fair number of family members and friends.

One thing was missing -- Bro. Gibbs, who was to sing a favorite song and bring the message. A couple minutes after the ceremony was supposed to start, I reached him on the phone and found out he had gotten lost. (I can't blame him for that -- I had a terrible time finding the place myself; it's a beautiful cemetary, but it's down a small side road without a sign on the main road.) With no sure idea when he would arrive and an awful lot of people shuffling their feet in the NC heat, and the bagpipes stopping their prelude to look at us expectantly (yes, we had bagpipers -- two of them, and two of the best I've ever heard), we decided to go ahead with the ceremony and hope he showed up before time to speak.

So I opened as planned, read Scripture, and looked up -- and there was still no Bro. Gibbs. So I sang a capella a song the family had mentioned as a second possibility (I didn't know the one Bro. Gibbs was going to sing), and went ahead and brought the message.

As soon as I was done, Bro. Gibbs pulled up. I can only think that it was of the Lord -- that there was something in that song I sang instead, or that I said, that He wanted people to get. It's the first time I've ever done a funeral message completely impromptu, and probably only the second time I've preached impromptu at all -- I REALLY like to be prepared with something worthwhile to say before I stand up in front of people. Nonetheless, I suppose God wanted it this time. Since he got there before the ceremony ended, I had Bro. Gibbs speak as we had planned. He tells me (much embarrassed) that it's the first time in his more than 50 years of ministry that he has ever been late for a funeral. Man, I hope my record is that good when I reach that point!


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