By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
No longer can large crowds congregate to say goodbye to loved ones or console family members. ‘The pandemic has created an unprecedented time in our society,” said Roc Collins, strategic objectives director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“We are working and learning as we go,” he said. With the expected deaths related to the coronavirus expected to rise, “the way we do funerals has to be addressed,” he said.
Eddie Click, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Lenoir City and a funeral home director, agreed.
“It has completely changed the way you do church and funerals and how you minister to families,” he said.
“When there’s a death, I’m used to meeting with the family. Now, it has to be done by telephone. It’s hard on me. I like to shake hands and hug people. I can’t do that anymore.”
Click said with the limitation on groups of 10 or less, most families are conducting graveside services. A lot of funeral homes are now streaming services, he added.
Retired Tennessee Baptist pastor Phil Hoskins now serves as director of the Oak Hill Funeral Home in Kingsport. “We’re working with families to recommend a private family gravesite with no more than 10 people,” he said. This obviously limits families, he observed.
“About 75 percent of the families who have done a funeral with us since March plan on coming back after this is all over and doing a full memorial service. … This does allow the family time to grieve and celebrate.”
Hoskins said the size of the funerals have not posed an issue.
“It’s not what people prefer but so far people are taking the situation with distancing very seriously and understand,” he said.
“We’re working closely with families and pastors to make the transition as meaningful as possible.”
He observed that the pandemic “is definitely unchartered territory and it has changed our business forever. Right now we are working to stream all funerals online. We recently had one where the granddaughter couldn’t get back from overseas so she was able to watch it through Facebook,” Hoskins said.
“We definitely see this as more than a business. We want what we do to be a ministry to families going through a time of grief.”
Collins offered some suggestions for dealing with funeral services in the midst of a pandemic.
- Keep your distance. “It is normal to put your arm around those who grieve. However, this is unadvisable during this unique time,” Collins said.
- Be comforting. While distance is needed, be compassionate with your words, Collins suggested. “Work hard at offering comfort through a message of hope. The Word of God is living and the Holy Spirit will show up and do the work of comforting.”
- Help the funeral home director. They have guidelines and laws they have to follow. When they are hosting the funeral they are responsible for social distancing. As a pastor, remind those attending the funeral to keep their distance in an uncontentious manner,” he said.
- Do whatever it takes. Collins noted that when services are streamed, it’s not always easy to deliver a message for people and a camera, but it is now necessary. “Do it (the message) with passion, love and kindness. Preach hope and comfort as if the room were overflowing,” he added.
“You cannot do this on your own, but lean on the Holy Spirit and He can do all things,” Collins said.
— For more on this, see Question and Answer session with TBC president Bruce Chesser.