Hello Preacher,

I've been to a few dozen funerals by now, so I'd like to clear some things up for you, since you seem to be a little fuzzy about the social and spiritual purpose of a funeral.

A funeral or memorial service exists as a way for the friends and family of the deceased to gather to share their grief and to pay tribute to the deceased's life. The role of the clergy present is to provide a formalized spiritual component that is intended to provide comfort to the survivors.

By all means, lead us in a few prayers or songs as appropriate to the deceased's religion or lack thereof. Funerals are for the living, but they should not dishonor the life and wishes of the deceased.

However, there are some things that just aren't cricket at a funeral. You may not know it, but midway through your "service" you had two fairly large men considering whether or not to take your slick-talking, glad-handing self out to the alley for a little "chat" afterward. For myself, I felt ill for most of the rest of the day.

To avoid possible unpleasantness at future funerals, I'd like to offer you a few helpful hints:

  1. If there are plenty of friends and family stepping up to the microphone up to pay tribute to the deceased in words and song, you aren't needed for much more than a closing prayer. Really. Hijacking the service and using it as your own bully pulpit to promote your own agenda for 40 minutes is rude and shows tremendous disrespect to both the mourners and the memory of the deceased. This is especially true when you do it in a place that isn't even a church, much less "your" church.

  2. Remember the advice of professional speakers and comedians: hit your topic three times and then move along. Saying the same thing 20 or 30 times does not make you a convincing speaker: it makes you tedious. Saying it very, very loudly also does not make you more convincing. We got it, really; we just weren't buying it.

  3. And speaking of professionals: actors, when required to fake tears, often use a little bottle of glycerine that they can hide in their sleeves. You started out your hijacking sermon with a moment in which you dramatically broke down weeping ("I'm -- I'm sorry folks, but I can feel {insert deceased's name} with me here today!") and yet you had the dryest eyes in the house. If you're going to steal Jimmy Swaggart's moves, try to be more convincing.
    • Also, good actors remember their lines: try not to slip up and momentarily forget the deceased's name when you're talking to the bereaved afterward. Makes all your talk of how dear the deceased was to you sound like a holy load.

  4. If you're not the theologian you claim, stick to Bible passages and hymns. Don't spout a bunch of harebrained misinformation that better-read people in the audience might be sorely tempted to call you on. For instance, if you feel you must exhort us to do good so that God will build us a mansion in the afterlife -- as if avoiding sin is just so we can all win the Lottery Ticket In the Sky -- don't do stuff like draw dodgy parallels between the word "repent" and "penthouse".

  5. Don't brag about how you came to the deceased in the final year of his life when he was frail and bedridden and "turned him to the Lord". What you did was emotionally and spiritually blackmail a sick old man. This isn't D&D, and he wasn't a wraith in need of "turning".
    • Don't talk as if the deceased's life was nothing but a pointless waste before you got hold of him. The deceased's children sitting there in the audience came along during this time of supposed waste and pointlessness, remember?

  6. Don't blurt out things that the deceased told you in confidence or confession. That is unbelievably disrespectful, and reveals you to be an untrustworthy character who isn't fit to be any kind of spiritual leader.

  7. Don't stand up there and condemn or mock the deceased's achievements. You're supposed to help us celebrate his life, remember? I shouldn't have to tell you that laughing about things the deceased cared about is not appropriate for a funeral. If you feel really strongly about it, save it for your sermon next month after the dead are buried.
    • If the deceased wrote horror novels, don't imply that his books (which you never even read) were tools of Satan, then proceed to spend the next 30 minutes trying to scare us all with the threat of hellfire if we don't get ourselves saved. You actually had a little kid crying at the end of your sermon. I guess you fire-and-brimstone types just don't like horror fiction because you don't like any entertaining competition in the fearmongering business.

  8. Don't stand up there and condemn or mock other religions. The deceased has friends of many faiths and educated nonfaith. Don't add your insult to the pain of our loss.

  9. After you have dishonored our dead friend's life and mocked our careers and beliefs, don't demand that we hold up our hands to show that we've been saved by the Lord. Don't further say "If you're not holding up your hand, I'll come out there and lift it up for you!" No, you won't. Really. Because if you try, you'll be leaving with one less arm than you arrived with.

Instead of comforting us in our grief, you made us angry. Instead of celebrating the deceased's life, you belittled him, set him aside, and aggrandized yourself.

Shame on you.