If you are like me, you’ve been to too many funerals in your life. Sometimes it’s a relative I don’t know, probably never met, or knew just a little. But as the oldest son in the region, it falls to me to represent my family at these events, including the death of my father’s childhood friends and coworkers. Another flavor I hate going to are the funerals of coworkers and contemporaries. Too many. Too many.
But sometimes a funeral is a great event. I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and funerals were very solemn. Very sad. And, as an asthmatic, they cap them off with incense. I never remember to bring my rescue inhaler (don’t need it but 6 times a year, and always after things have been headed downhill for a day or so) and when they fire up that beast I have learned to make a hasty retreat or suffer for about 3 days with horrible lung problems.
So, Catholic funerals are not fun. Nor are the funerals in most of the Protestant denominations that are a majority in Minnesota. No offense to those churches, but in large part they’re Catholics with German food and bad coffee. Say what you want about Catholic funeral lunches, but it’s a 50% chance that you’ll get lasagna. At a Lutheran funeral there will be no lasagna. At best, a hot tuna casserole.
There is, however, a funeral service that will lift your soul, encourage you, and leave you smiling about the deceased’s life, and happy for their destination. Where? Get to a funeralizing at a Missionary Baptist Church, or a COGIC (Church Of God In Christ) congregation. Probably best if you knew the deceased, but you can roll in to most and get away with it as a coworker of the deceased.
Why would I say that? Because both denominations are almost exclusively populated by Black people, and in the church the members are a family. They will know if you’re a regular or not, and not just based on the color of your skin. Not African American, but black. I say that as one who has been a member of both, and as a very white kind of guy, I listen for accents. A lot of immigrants from Africa, Haiti, etc., join these churches in Minnesota because they feel more comfortable there than the very white places. Count me in that group after 13 years of membership in predominantly black churches. I feel so at home with the worship style that I am a fish out of water at the ones I grew up in.
Now, what makes a funeral fun? For starters, everyone there knows that the person is going to Heaven. Mind you, sometimes that’s just a polite fiction, and we all know better deep down, but there’s a good chance we weren’t in on their relationship with God and they are sitting in front of Him teaching God how to play dominoes the way they did back home. He is likely a very quick study.
Second, there is good music. Uplifting music. The kind of music you know you’ll hear when you die and go to check out Heaven yourself.
Third – testimonies! For those of you in more vanilla congregations, this is where the microphone is opened up and anyone who remembers the deceased and wants to talk has 1-5 minutes – or until someone grabs the microphone away and drags them out. Sometimes very eloquent, sometimes somber, but on occasion it’s like listening to vintage Mom’s Mabely routines. There is nothing better than an older church lady with the dirt on the deceased. I have rarely laughed as hard as the stories they tell.
The sermon varies from pastor to pastor. If they really knew the deceased, it’s often moving, eloquent – and frequently just as funny as testimony. You see, we’re happy they shed this vale of tears and are up in Heaven getting our places ready for us. Not so many tears as smiles.
Last, but not least, the supper after the funeral. Let me just say that if you don’t like the food, there’s something wrong with you. From the sweet tea in the big cooler to the pound cake at the end, and all the mashed taters, gravy, chicken, and rolls in between, the Mission Ministry Ladies do an excellent job of honoring the family and feeding them.
So why this post today? On last Friday we (Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church) buried our sister Wendy Bell. Known as Mother Bell (an honorific in our church) she was one of the first people to greet me at Shiloh. Each week she made a point of seeking me out, giving me a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and inquiring as to my well being and that of my wife. She followed my Instagram pictures of Stormy and remarked on the latest one each Sunday. She was kind, loving, and a great wife to her husband Frank – who is also a great guy and a fellow veteran.
Mother Wendy treated everyone this way. If you hadn’t been smooched on the cheek by Mother Wendy, you just hadn’t been at Shiloh for more than a week. Her death hit a lot of people hard.
Last week when Chewy came to live with us, I wondered what Wendy would think of him. I looked forward to her input. But she died before she could tell me.
I imagine she’s up in Heaven watching after all the new arrivals in her crown of gold. Right next to her is “her little girl” Stormy. Stormy will never be alone as long as Wendy Bell is up there with her.
Both of them are chuckling at us right now. Knowing we’ll be along shortly.
I look forward to that day – not to being “funeralized” but to catching up with this former fashion model, banker, and Mother of my church.
We miss you, Mother Wendy. But we’ll be there soon. In the meantime, we’re keeping an eye on Frank for you – he’s doing okay for a guy who lost a gem like you.