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What a Church Can Offer Grieving Families

Being contacted regarding church funeral services is a part of the function of any place of worship. Congregants, parishioners and those with no religious affiliation may have a need for the services of a pastor and church staff in planning a funeral. Beyond making your building available for funeral services, there are many functions a place of worship can fill to support a grieving family. How you fulfill those functions may be governed somewhat by the guidelines of your denomination. For many churches, however, ways to support grieving families may not yet be formalized, but with a little thought and planning, could become a part of the church’s normal function.

It begins by asking three questions:

  1. What are the needs of grieving families?
  2. What resources are available to help meet those needs?
  3. Does our denomination already have specific guidelines about how funeral needs are met?

One of the first needs that must be met when a family suffers a loss is assistance in handling the practical details. Your pastor or staff could very well be the first to receive a call after a death, even before emergency personnel or a funeral home.

It can be overwhelming, especially when the death is unexpected, to know what should be done. Your church could assist by preparing a simple document that suggests steps to follow as they plan. Those steps might include:

  • Who should be contacted? Having available contact information for several local funeral homes can take the mystery out of this step. Funeral home directors are trained in the legal and practical aspects of reporting a death and arranging for transport of the remains.
  • What’s required when planning a funeral? Unless arrangements have been made in advance for funeral details, the person left to plan that funeral may have no idea where to start. If your church can prepare a list of frequently asked questions regarding funeral planning, such as what kind of music is allowed, is there a charge for the pastor to officiate, can non-members use the church for funerals, and so forth, it will be of great service to grieving families.

In addition to helping plan the funeral service, your church funeral coordinator or other designated staff member could assist in designing and printing appropriate funeral mementos. If this is a new area for your church, you’ll be relieved to know that today’s downloadable funeral program templates make the task simple.

By guiding the family members through collecting photos, a favorite poem or song verse and the pertinent information for the funeral bulletin, you are, once again, providing important support in a difficult time.  Our article titled "What Goes in a Funeral Program" can be helpful.

Once the funeral has been planned, there are a couple of other ways your place of worship can support grieving families. One is through appropriate referrals to counseling services, grief support groups and resources for assisting children through the grieving process. The other is by suggesting or providing a space for a funeral dinner or reception following the service. This type of gathering, even if only for the family, is a more informal setting in which they can relax and share memories, reconnect old bonds and begin to process their loss together.

The church can be a valuable resource for families struggling with the loss of a loved one. By providing information, support and compassion to grieving families, your place of worship can help the healing process begin.