No, I didn’t complete the license to preach course last Monday. I haven’t even started the course yet. I am not an official pastor in the eyes of the UMC.
Last Monday, I did my first funeral. I’m not saying that that’s how everyone becomes a pastor, but it’s how I did. Jeff and our friend Ruben Chupp have said that doing a funeral is not easy but it’s a privilege to be trusted with that responsibility. Jeff says he’s learned an important lesson from each person whose funeral he’s done. Ruben says it’s a chance to share God with people who are hurting and might not know Him.
Funerals were something I never saw myself doing—or being able to do. I’ve long been an empathy crier and I couldn't imagine getting through a service without sobbing in front of everyone. I felt relieved when a few of the older people in our church had relatives or former pastor friends who they asked to do their funerals in the past few months.
Then I checked the phone on my lunch break while teaching last week and had a voicemail from someone at church. A woman in the church’s son had died unexpectedly—not only had he died but he’d apparently taken his own life. Then I got a call from the funeral home—yes, his mother wanted me to do the funeral—and yes, she wanted to be up front about the manner of death.
I threw up after the second call from the funeral director on Tuesday night. I nearly threw up after meeting with the family the next day to hear about the young man's life--even though it was a conversation filled with powerfully positive stories and a lot of laughter. I threw up all night on Friday. Yet the message for the funeral came to me almost immediately after that. If I had been chosen to do it, I determined to do it well for the family.
One day this week our online group devotional suggested praying on your knees if you want to hear from God. I commented that it had been a long time since I prayed like that. Jeff didn’t post a comment to the group, but he reminded me that I’d spent most of Friday night on my knees—and he was sure I’d been doing some praying.
By Monday morning I felt calm. I felt the prayers of countless friends from near and far. We ran into our friend Kim at Bethel on Tuesday—for the first time this semester—and she asked, “What was going on yesterday? I just felt called to pray for you.”
I told her I’d the privilege of doing a funeral. An awesome family trusted me in a difficult situation. I learned lessons of treasuring truly valuable things like generosity, nature, friends, and family. I spoke to rows of young men in flannel shirts who’d been the young man’s friends. And I became a pastor.