Death and Life in Christ
For a Christian death is only a stage in our journey towards the fullness of eternal life with our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
It is, however, a very real event. Although there can be joy for the Christian who has been fully united with God, there is also a natural sadness in being separated from one who is loved. It is something we will all experience. As with all other events in our lives, prior preparation will be of great help to all who are concerned.
What Decisions should be taken in advance?
Cremation or Burial: Most of the funerals that are conducted today are followed by a private cremation instead of a burial. There are many practical advantages to a cremation (e.g. it is not necessary for the family and congregation to travel from the church to the cemetery; it is not necessary to provide a headstone, or for the ongoing care of the grave). However, this is a personal choice, so make your wishes known to your family.
Ashes: There is a Garden of Remembrance at St Luke’s in which ashes may be interred. The names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance. Plaques can be mounted on allotted sections of wall within the Garden. The layout of the garden has been professionally designed. Sadly, the small size of the Garden prohibits the planting of shrubs in memory of a loved one. However, contributions towards the upkeep of the garden would be most welcome and would be used for that purpose.
Hymns: A list of favourite hymns (we normally use three) from which to choose would be helpful. They should be well known to allow everyone to participate.
Scriptures: A list of Bible passages which have been meaningful to you all, would also be helpful in planning the service.
Venue: It is most appropriate and meaningful if the service is held in the parish church to which the family belongs, or in the church of the parish in which they live. A funeral parlour is not as suitable, as it divorces the services from the visible significance of the local family of God, and it also has no present or future significance in the life of the family. For these reasons, we do not normally conduct funerals at funeral parlours.
Coffin: The emphasis should be on simplicity. Therefore, a simple pine coffin is normally more appropriate than one which is more elaborate. However, this is a personal or family choice. Again, it would be worth making your wishes known to the family. The Bishops of our Church have spoken out a number of times against ostentatious and expensive funerals.
Undertakers: There are a number of undertakers serving the Johannesburg area. Over the years we have found that the best service has been obtained from Thom Kight & Co. (Tel. 011 837-5531)
The Church: If at all possible, the church should be contacted before a death occurs. We will arrange for someone to pray with, and minister to, the person concerned, and the family.
Service Plan: If you have particular instructions concerning your own funeral, there is a file available in the office where these may be kept. Details of any hymns, readings, and people you would like to be involved, should be detailed in writing, signed, and handed in to the office. If you would like any help with this, please come and see us in the office.
What other matters should concern me?
Will: Make sure that you have an up-to-date will, prepared by suitably qualified people (trust companies, banks, attorneys) in which executors are appointed and given clearly defined powers and instructions. Appoint an executor who is suitably qualified and trustworthy.
Living Wills: Some people are drawing up such wills to help protect their families and dependents against the emotional and financial stress caused by prolonged hospitalisation on life support equipment. They ask that the use of such equipment be discontinued under certain medical circumstances. Your doctor or attorney could help you with more information.
Finance: If you are the breadwinner, ensure that arrangements are made for your dependents to have immediate access to sufficient funds to meet their needs until monies become available from your estate. Your financial advisor, attorney or insurance consultant could help you.
Relationships: Many people die suddenly, and without being able to take a proper farewell from those they love. Be careful to express your love to those who are important to you whilst you are able. Consider also preparing letters to be handed to them after your death.
General: Ensure that your dependents know where the important documents are kept. Leave a list of the actions that will need to be taken by them in relation to your affairs. Make sure that they are able to conduct their own affairs (banking, insurance, household, motor, etc.) and leave them a list of suitable advisors.
By far the most important question on which you need to reflect is that of your standing with God. You must not evade the issue, or take it for granted. Far too much is at stake – you are dealing with the possibility of participating in, or excluding yourself from, eternal life with God. If you have any doubts then speak to the church immediately.
What needs to happen after a death?
(a) Unnatural causes:
If there is any reason to suspect that death was not the result of natural causes, then call the police immediately. They will tell you how to proceed from there onwards.
(b) Natural causes:
Contact your doctor immediately.
Church: Contact the church as soon as possible in all cases. We will arrange for someone to contact the family.
Undertaker: Once the doctor has given approval, contact the undertakers and ask them to collect the body. You may telephone them at any time of the day or night. If necessary, they can arrange a doctor for you.
Executors: In all cases, contact the executors of the deceased’s estate and advise them of the date of death.
How do I arrange the funeral?
Registration of death: The undertakers will attend to this on your behalf. They will need to be given the deceased’s Book of Life.
Time: Arrange the time in conjunction with the church, and then with the undertakers. They will advise you on the most suitable time in the circumstances. Please do not make arrangements before checking that the church and a minister are available.
Notices: Ask the undertakers to place the notices in the press for you. They, and the church representative, will help you compose suitable notices. These could include a suggestion to friends that donations, in lieu of flowers, be sent to specified charities.
Flowers: It is not normally necessary to order flowers for the church. You may wish to arrange flowers for the coffin. The undertakers will arrange this for you if you ask them.
Pallbearers: Unless the service is to be followed by a burial, pallbearers are not usually required. The coffin may be placed in the church by the undertakers well before the service, and left in the church at the end of the service. This highlights the act of handing the person back to God and leaving them in His presence. If, however, you wish for pallbearers then six are normally required. Close friends or family are most suitable.
Hymns: Discuss the choice of hymns with the minister or church representative. They will help you choose ones that are suitable for the occasion.
Tea: Very often the family will invite the congregation to tea after the service at the family home or other convenient venue. The minister will gladly extend the invitation on your behalf during the service.
Arrangements can often be made to have tea on the lawns outside the church. The family and friends will need to provide tea, coffee, milk, sugar and snacks. The church will provide the crockery, cutlery, tables, tablecloths, chairs and hot water.
Eulogy: The focus of a funeral is on the sacrificial love and mercy of our God. It is, therefore, not appropriate to list the qualities and achievements of the person who has died, except in the context of thanking God for what He has achieved by His grace. In such circumstances a eulogy should be at the beginning of the service. Remember, however, that most people attending will have known the qualities of the person concerned and will not need reminding. The minister, who must be consulted before arrangements are made, will advise you.
What financial arrangements do I need to make?
The undertakers will send you an account for all the services that they undertake – including the cost of press notices, flowers, etc.
We suggest that you ask them also to pay the organist and to make a suitable donation to the church. There is no need for you to make any payment to the minister who conducts the service.
What about children?
It is important not to exclude children from the service. Death is a reality in our lives and should not be hidden. Children need also to know that they have taken their leave of the person who has died and given them back to God. Failure to do so can leave them with a sense of exclusion, incompleteness and even guilt.
Should the coffin be in the church?
The coffin holds the body of the person we love. The body has been to us the visible presence and expression of that person. During their funeral we dispose reverently of that body with love and tenderness. For these and other good reasons, the Bishops of our Church require that the body be present during the service. The only exceptions are where the body is not available, has been donated for purposes of medical research, or where the funeral service has been held far away and family members were unable to be present.
Without exception, families who have previously expressed concern, have acknowledged after the service that having the coffin in the church was the correct decision.
If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at telephone number 011 728-7015