Rituals at the time of death: Introducing a new series

Flowers at a Fresh Grave

Flowers at a Fresh Grave

No part of Christian liturgical practice in the United States has changed as radically as rituals when people die. As pastor, seminary professor, and family member I have given careful attention to this topic, gradually coming to significant changes of mind.

The death of my wife, Billie Lee Caton Watkins, on August 12, 2014, after 62 years of marriage and eight years with metastatic breast cancer, made it necessary to cut through conflicting ideas and practices in order to solemnize and celebrate her life in this world and to proclaim our faith that “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

As summer draws to a close, I intend to resume regular postings on my blog with a series of columns in which I explore the changing patterns concerning funerals in ecumenical Protestant churches, outline the conclusions that I am reaching, raise questions for discussion, and suggest ideas for pastoral practice among liberal Christians in our time.

The first step in this process will be to repost previous blogs on this topic. In this way, I will refresh my own remembrance of what I have been thinking in the past two or three years. I will continue my reading of current literature that bears upon this subject and report on this material.

I welcome contributions to this ongoing series from readers of this blog. By reflecting upon our personal and pastoral experience, theological reflection, and liturgical practice, we can help our churches and their members come to renewed and healthful practices at the time that death comes.


7 Responses to Rituals at the time of death: Introducing a new series

  1. Keith, know that you are in my prayers as you continue this journey. I look forward to sharing in this conversation.

  2. Joe Culpepper says:

    Thanks Keith. This looks to be a helpful series, & I look forward to reading & commenting with interest. Just to start with a comment, Ellen & I have drawn up a list of the things we would like to have included in our funeral/memorial services & obituaries, recognizing of course that our children/family will need to shape the services in ways that are meaningful to them. With increasing diversity in religious, philosophical, cultural, ethnic & other values even within nuclear families these days, that can be a challenge for the family as well as for the pastor! How does one honor the various commitments & values that family members want expressed? How does one do that when there are significant differences of belief/conviction that may be exclusionary of the other beliefs? It is an important issue, fraught with emotion as well as intellectual & spiritual complexity. I’ll be interested in a dialogue via your blog on these & other questions. Continued prayers & blessings to you & all of your family.

    • John, thank you for your comment. I receive your new series of posts but have been greatly distracted and have failed to give them proper attention. I hope things get better in days to come. Keith

  3. It’s good to read your writing again, Keith. My thoughts and prayers are with you in this time, and I look forward to the conversation as it unfolds.

    (From South Africa)

  4. Grateful for this endeavor, for your engaging it in the company of other, for the aroma of Billie’s life which will linger in this world far longer than we can imagine, and for that baptismal faith you raise before us again. Peace and thank you.
    David Chafin

  5. Donald Dahmann says:

    Thank you for being in ministry to others during this period in your life – we will all be richer for sharing.

    On a previous topic – You “must” publish your account/reflections on COCU in some form or another, simply based on the faith that someone some day will use it to breathe new life into ecumenical efforts.


    • Don, thank you for your encouragement on my COCU project. This week I’m reading page proofs (I’m one third through the ms). Then comes the indexing and the printing should follow shortly thereafter. I will also be blogging on the subject, after the series on rituals is completed. The ritual series will continue later this week. Keith

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