When Your Funeral Director Doesn’t Offer Chaplain Services

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Whether a family is pre–planning their funeral arrangements or the death is sudden and arrangements have to be made on–the-fly, or if death is immanent and the family needs to make arrangements with a funeral director, it is essential that the subject of grief support and spiritual or pastoral care be discussed and included in the conversation. Not to do so deprives everyone concerned of important healing and growth opportunities, including for funeral home staff.

NoMoreCookie-Cutter Funerals

But what do you do if your funeral director doesn’t provide or offer the services of a bereavement chaplain?

Clearly I believe that the effective funeral service should serve the bereaved in their wholeness, that is, the funeral service should provide a venue for farewells, for community support, for memorializing, for setting the stage for grief and healing. Regrettably, too many funeral service providers are deaf, dumb, and blind to the important opportunity that they offer and should be providing to the bereaved for holistic healing. After all, isn’t that the fundamental purpose of the profession; compassionate presence?

Why are so many funeral directors oblivious to the bereaved’s spiritual needs?

Why are so many funeral directors oblivious to the bereaved's spiritual needs?

Why has funeral direction been allowed to degenerate into a mere body disposal service? From an authentic ministry to a removal service? Well, it hasn’t really — yet. Not only has our culture degraded the intrinsic and inherent value of the human being to be a means to an end, this culture has devolved into one that deprives the individual of some of the most important experiences of transformation and growth, it has even gone further than that by devaluing the important role of grief and grief spirituality in bereavement and in the great mysteries of life, dying and death. In other words, it has dehumanized the human element of true living, gentle dying, good death, grief, meaning – making and healing. It has left most of those experiencing the loss of a loved one in a sterile wasteland, devalued, defiled by superficiality and commercialization. Let’s take the example of the so – called direct cremation or direct burial; it’s an inhuman abomination. The dead are treated like so much household waste simply to be carted away and disposed of by burning or burying. The deceased is simply picked up, carted away, disposed of. What does that say about reverence for the person that was? About his or her meaning and legacy? What does that say about the survivors’ character, humanity, self – esteem, expectations of healing and growth? The obvious answer to all of these questions: Not much!.

Cremation-vs-Burial

What does it say about the funeral service industry? What it says is that it has reached in many instances the level of the municipal waste disposal companies: “We’ll remove your garbage neatly and cleanly for a price.”. How far can this tragic development progress? Well, all we have to do is trace the development of the funeral rite just over the past couple of hundred years.

Before 1876 Cremation Was Unheard of In the United States

Before about the mid – 19th century, almost everyone in the West was buried; interment in the earth was the norm. Cremation was practically unkown except in the Orient and in times of plague and epidemic in the West. Then, in the late 19th century, in the United States around 1876 with the first public cremation in the United States with the incineration of Baron DePalm, was being done because it was “more sanitary.” Later, in the early 20th century, cremation was touted as being more environmentally friendly and saved land for the living—that is, for the corporations and developers, as it happened. Then, later, cremations generally followed the conventional wake / vigil, religious or spiritual service, then the cremation in lieu of interment of the body.

Human remains after a cremation cool down at Mount Auburn Cemetary February 21, 2002 in Watertown, MA. The cemetary has been performing cremations for 100 years and does about 900 per year.

This is what grandma looks like when she leaves the cremation retort, the cremation chamber.

And since the late 1960’s early 1970’s the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church as well as Reform Judaism allow cremation in the USA, although it’s not ‘encouraged.’Today, funeral service providers offer removal of the dead and direct transportation to the crematorium with nothing in between. If there’s even a memorial service, that comes later. But to be fair, I have officiated at some very beautiful services that followed a direct cremation and also included a touching graveside service when the cremated remains were interred in the ground. But the point I’d like to make clear is that we’re losing touch with a very important part of living, of growth, and we have reached the point where we have to seriously reconsider what we have become and are becoming.

If Direct Cremation is Repugnant, Think About Liquid Cremation—Body Dissolving…

That’s not the worst of it. Some companies are now promoting what is called “resomation” or “liquid cremation”. Liquid cremation is a bit of a misleading name for this process because there’s no fire involved at all. What happens in this disposal method is that the body is placed in a chamber and exposed to a heated caustic chemical solution and over a period of several hours is literally dissolved and drained away. Nice, right. Sort of like put grandpa in the tub, fill it with some hot water add some Draino, wait a while, pull the plug and Grandpa goes gurgling down the drain. Real nice. How really bad can it get?

Danville-based Bio-Response Solutions makes this device to dispose of human remains with chemicals and high-temperatures as an alternative to flame cremation.

The image above shows a liquid cremation or resomation chamber. Danville-based Bio-Response Solutions makes this device to dispose of human remains with chemicals and high-temperatures as an alternative to flame cremation.

If I have made the impression that I am not 100 % in favor of direct cremation or direct burial, I need to clarify. There are situations in which direct disposal is not 110 % bad, in my opinion. If the family and friends are largely in geographical proximity to the death, and have had the opportunity to say goodbye, and the death occurs, direct cremation may be a solution, provided that a memorial or funeral service is held later. There are very good reasons for my saying this but they’re too involved to include here.

Just Take IT and Bury IT — So-called “Direct Burial”

Direct burial is a bit more problematic. Carting a body off directly to the cemetery to be buried deprives everyone of the opportunity for closure, unless, of course, the family and friends were able to accompany the deceased through the dying process and were able to say their goodbyes. Again, a memorial service should follow a direct burial for many of the same reasons that can be given for direct cremation.

Again, closure, taking care of the unfinished business, receiving the support of the community, validation of one’s grief and loss, celebration of a life lived, and meaning – making, healing and transformation are swept to the wayside without a proper funeral service that includes a spiritual element.

That’s why I feel it’s important for us all to be on board when assisting the bereaved and each other in all phases of the rite of passage we call death, a rite of passage for the deceased as well as for the bereaved.

Funeral professionals like any other profession cannot afford to think simplistically about what they do. Neither should they oversimplify what is a very complex part of life, dying and death. Certainly, there’s the business of death, the science of death, and the spirituality of death, each with its unique and special requirements, requisites, and responsibilities to those we serve. The question is, are we equipped to meet the challenge, or are our service providers simply doing as little as possible and just going through the motions absolutely necessary to satisfy a customer?

To deny the bereaved the spiritual growth aspect and the meaning – making aspect of the loss of a loved one is shortchanging them. Not to proactively offer the spiritual and pastoral care services of a professional bereavement chaplain is shortchanging the bereaved. Not to conscientiously promote and proactively offer the spiritual component of the funeral or memorial service is failure to provide a complete package, and to have failed in providing a holistic service.

think outside the coffin

The work starts with the pre–planning meeting, where not only the preliminary logistics but also the mode of disposition of the mortal remains is discussed along with other funeral home services but the subject of spiritual and pastoral care, the subject of grief and mourning, the availability of a professional bereavement chaplain, competent, qualified, with interfaith credentials should be emphasized as an integral component of the death rites.

Part of our work, our ministry, is educating the bereaved as to what is grief, how spirituality helps to inaugurate a healthy grieving process, how spirituality and a funeral liturgy assists in the necessary process of healing and meaning – making, realizing growth and transformation that must follow a loss.

Even when death occurs suddenly, traumatically, unexpectedly or when death is anticipated or even planned the family may be completely unprepared for the reality of the death and its rituals, and appear at the funeral home confused, dazed, stressed out to make urgent funeral arrangements. In chaplaincy and pastoral care, Yes! in grief facilitation the axiom is: “Don’t make any big decisions in the first year after the loss.” But what’s a funeral? Isn’t that a major life decision? It’s a one-time performance, my friends. It can’t be repeated so we’d better get it right the first time because it’s a lasting impression—good or bad— and like it or not, this is the big exception to our rule of thumb, simply because it’s so unavoidable.

bereavement support

Even when a family comes in to make arrangements for an expected death, wouldn’t it be a meaningful act of compassion and empathy if the funeral director were to say, “We have a professional chaplain on call here. Would you like to have him come by the hospital to be with you and the family when life support is withdrawn? It may help a lot.” The dividends paid on that modest honorarium (usually $100 – $ 150 for the entire process of accompanying thru the dying process) are incredible. And it will most likely be the same chaplain, already familiar with the family, who would do the vigil, the memorial, the funeral service. How good does it get?

Here’s a real–life example, in which I’d like to share an Aha! moment with you that I experienced just recently, thanks to an extraordinarily astute and compassionate funeral director, with whom I work on a regular basis:

I received call from this well–known funeral home to book a memorial service for a case that was still in hospital but in which life support was to be removed. While making arrangements in advance and somewhere in the conversation the subject of pastoral care or spirituality during the dying process must have come up because the actual call I initially received from the funeral home was to ask if I would attend the family at the hospital before, during, and after the withdrawal from life support protocol was implemented, that is, to be present and to accompany the patient and the family through the dying process and death experience. The family was a rather eclectic blend of faith traditions but obviously felt that a spiritual presence was important, and the funeral director picked up the signals.

The take–home point here is that the funeral director serving this family was listening and identified a need; he seized the moment and extended the hand of compassion.

funeral_celebrantI accepted the case and was present for the family during their most difficult moments of decision–making and witnessing, and later to celebrate their loved one’s life and meaning during my funeral service; it was a truly special experience for everyone involved. (It should be noted that hospital pastoral care associates [a.k.a. chaplain interns, trainees, volunteers] and most hospital chaplains would not be up to a task of this complexity; hospital rules would likely prevent them from engaging with the family with the required intimacy and in – depth dialogue. Most clergy lack the specialized training, which is why their services are such disappointing, cookie–cutter parodies of authentic chaplaincy.)

Needless to say, I was greatly impressed by the funeral director’s approach to the situation — and the family was incredibly grateful —, and I would urge all funeral professionals to keep such acts of compassion in mind when assisting a family in making arrangements.

Put yourself in that scenario and think of what it would mean to you, to your family. It’s a privileged, precious moment for everyone, and very satisfying for the funeral director to be able to do that.

lilly_small

Confronting Death: Thanatology Café

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Dying, Death and all subjects, fact, myth, fiction, You name it! associated with the Grim Reaper have at the same time been terrifying, plaguing, and obsessing human beings since Day One. Now we at Compassionate Care Associates and Chaplain p.r.n. are planning to organize our first Thanatology Café event in the Albany, New York, area for mid-January 2016.

Thanatology Café

Thanatology is the scientific study of death. It investigates the mechanisms and physical aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany the dying process, actual physical death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider psychological, cultural, social, and spiritual aspects related to death, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families.

Death Cappucino

Dying, death, and grief are fundamental and significant aspects of the human experience. Anyone who has had the privilege of accompanying a loved one — or anyone, for that matter — through the dying process knows that numerous professional roles intersect with the complex and sensitive domains of acknowledging death, witnessing and accompanying dying, cultural aspects of dying, death, and post-mortem rites, rituals, ceremonies, but few of us receive specific education or an opportunity to explore this aspect of life, to allow one to effectively address and communicate about these issues. Some of us have received advanced education and continuing education and training and practical training in dying, death, grief and mourning, and can enhance the public’s comfort level, competence, and confidence in personal, interpersonal, spiritual and professional contexts. The overall goal of this unique opportunity to meet and share about death, dying, grief and mourning, the academic field of thanatology, is to restore our culture’s intimacy and comfort with the dying, the dead, the care of those who are actively experiencing death and bereavement. We’d like to offer persons who would like to know more about this fascinating subject that has been the subject of fear, anxiety, taboo, and denial, with the goal of facilitating the necessary steps aimed at easing the stress, confusion, and vulnerability that most persons experience when confronted with the death of a loved one and what necessarily follows. In addition, we’d like to offer a forum, where persons with a serious interest in thanatology can find opportunities for expert discussion, and which will become a source of guidance for education and training in this fascinating field.

In the coming month, we’ll be planning the program for Thanatology Café, and we hope to put together a number of formal presentations that will be followed by informal discussion and sharing in smaller groups or even one-on-on. We’ll be inviting local mortuary service providers who will be able to share their knowledge, expertise, and tips on how to pre-plan and negotiate pre-arrangements, how to navigate the sometimes daunting waters of last-minute funeral arranging, and managing the costs involved.

We’ll also be exploring the history of death and disposal of mortal remains, including aspects of embalming, waking, burial, , cremation, and newer trends such as the not-so-new so-called “green burial”, body alkaline hydrolysis [a.k.a. resomation, “liquid cremation” or dissolving the dead body], composting, and some of the more bizarre notions of the final disposition of the deceased.

We’ll also offer opportunities for exploring the spirituality of dying, death and bereavement, and how important spirituality is in meaning-making in the face of death and bereavement. Believe it or not, you may not belong to a church or consider yourself “practicing” or religious but even an atheist is spiritual. You will need spiritual support and only an experienced bereavement chaplain can provide that. If your funeral home does not have a chaplain, run away — fast.

digital age death

For better or for worse, technology has transformed how people grieve and mourn, and memorialize our dead. So, oOf course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer something about technological advances in grieving and mourning, both the blessings and the curses. We’ll be discussing social media and the pitfalls and advantages of streaming, Facebook, Twitter,  online obituaries, online books (for example, Legacy).

And finally, we hope to persuade you that your independent — as opposed to the cut-rate factory body disposal specialists posing as funeral homes, a.k.a. factory funeral homes — is there to answer your questions and to guide you through some of the most difficult moments in life with integrity, compassion and dignity. There are questions you can and should ask, and questions your “family”funeral home director and staff — and you should have a family funeral home — (not necessarily the one that has been burying relatives for decades; shop around!) want to ask and to answer. (You may want to start of with Ask a Mortician Anything.)

If you’d be interested in joining us at Thanatology Café, and would like to receive more detailed information on the locales and the program, please drop us a couple of lines telling us about your interest, who you are, why you are interested, and what you’d like to see on the discussion program. You can send your confidential e-mail to us at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or leave a comment using the comment feature below. Your e-mails will be kept confidential but your comments, if appropriate, will be published for our readers to view.

Thanatology Café will be facilitated by a professional bereavement chaplain, who will be pleased to respond to your personal questions in confidence, or to guide you through the thanatology process. You can contact a Chaplain p.r.n. at any time at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com. If you wish your inquiries to be kept confidential and private, please let us know in your correspondence or e-mail.

Who knows? Perhaps you may want to earn a certificate in thanatology with the NCDE (National Center for Death Education, Mount Ida College, Newton, MA) or with the ADEC (Association for Death Education and Counseling), or you may want to work in a funeral home as a funeral service associate or even a funeral planner.

We’ll be looking forward to hearing from you and to welcoming you at our inaugural Thanatology Café event.

No Joke! Chaplain Harold Editor

No Joke!
Chaplain Harold
Editor

Brooklyn: Finding an Interfaith Officiant

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It seems that it’s very difficult to find a competent, experienced, professional interfaith officiant in the New York Metropolitan Area. Even the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn reports that they frequently cannot fill the need for officiants at funerals and memorials.

The beautiful historic chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

The interior of the Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel. A beautiful venue for a beautiful service.

The family of a victim of violent death was searching in vain for an officiant for the memorial service and ennichement of their loved one and finally found Chaplain Harold Vadney, who initially deviated from protocol to compassionately provide a memorial service program for the family. The family was so impressed with the program and with the service and support they received from Chaplain Harold that they insisted he travel to Brooklyn’s historic Greenwood Cemetery to officiate the memorial service and the ennichement.

Chaplain Harold initially encouraged the family to take some time to think about their request and to consider the cost involved to bring him from Albany, New York, to Brooklyn. The family made their decision: they wanted Chaplain Harold.

Although the family insisted on the chaplain’s comfort when traveling and wanted to bring him in by train, the chaplain suggested rather that he travel by bus at less than a third of the cost of a train ticket and, noting Amtrak’s reputation for unreliability, suggested its was the most reliable mode of transport. Chaplain Harold’s slogan is: “I don’t waste my resources and I won’t waste yours.

Chaplain Harold made the trip and had the privilege of celebrating the memorial service,a special Christian-Muslim hybrid ceremony, and ennichement rites in the beautiful and historic Green-Wood Chapel to the family’s complete satisfaction.

For more information on the beautiful national historic site, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, please click this link: Green-Wood

“The administrative and support staff at Green-Wood couldn’t have done more to accommodate the family and the celebration; they were some of the most compassionate and helpful cemetery staff I have ever experienced!”, says Chaplain Harold.

Chaplain Harold Vadney is a professional bereavement chaplain and provides interfaith, non-denominational, and humanistic (non-religious) pastoral care services and funeral/memorial services in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Greene county region in central New York state, and travels to other areas to provide services to families in need. Chaplain Harold can be reached at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or through your comment on this blog.

Another Beautiful Service! Thank you! Chaplain Harold

Another Beautiful Service!
Thank you! Chaplain Harold

The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain: an essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

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New Article

(To download the complete article click this link: Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain-An Essential Asset)

Unity SymboldThe professional interfaith bereavement chaplain: an essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

A straight – from – the – hip discussion of the state of affairs, solutions and recommendations by an experienced provider of professional interfaith bereavement services.

Abstract. This article presents an uncosmetized impression of the deterioration in quality of death services, and based on firsthand observations makes practical recommendations for improving the services provided to and requested by the bereaved and supportive of mourners. This article makes recommendations to the consumer as well as to the mortuary services provider, that include among other things: sensitivity to the spiritual needs of the mourner, addressing those needs with appropriate sensitivity, providing for those needs through the services of a competent professional bereavement chaplain. This article highlights not only the human-spirit aspects of dignified and personalized funeral and memorial services but also points out the considerable economies to be realized by both the consumer and the service provider by enlisting the support of an on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain. With the holistic interdisciplinary team approach advocated in this article, the insidious deterioration in care and support services can be deterred if not prevented by the mortuary services provider partnered with the on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain, and the necessary grief work, healing and transformation effectively nurtured.

While this article focuses in specific terms on providers and consumers of mortuary services, its principles and applications, and recommendations can be extended and generalized to any of the helping professions.

While this article attempts to address a number of points, which are high in priority to both the consumer and service provider, many points must necessarily remain unmentioned. With that in mind, we do encourage feedback and comment from our readers, and we invite you to provide your thoughts either by private e – mail to compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or by using the comment feature on this blog.


Keywords: Funeral, memorial, mortuary services, funeral director, funeral home, grief, mourning, chaplain, pastoral care, spiritual care, officiant, helping profession


“Death is psychologically as important as birth. Shrinking away from it is both unhealthy and abnormal … because it robs the second half of life of its meaning and purpose.”
Ernest Becker

Here are some of the subtitles in the article:

  • The Funeral Director And The Funeral Home Staff Are In A Helping Profession: It’s Time You Realized That.
  • The Funeral Director And His Or Her Staff Has Mutated To That Of Disposal Specialist
  • We No Longer Have The Appreciation Of The Intimacy With Life’s Stages Such As The Closeness And Appreciation Of Death That The Victorians Shared
  • Churches And Clergy Are Not Much Better And Fall Far Short Of The Barest Minimum Of Ministry To The Bereaved
  • Sensitively Executed Memorial Or Funeral Service Should Be Even More Important Because Each And Every Mourner Carries Home The Healthy Effects When They Leave The Funeral Home Or Graveside
  • Spiritual Religious Concerns Are High On The List Of Priorities Of The Bereaved
  • Regret The Poor Performance Of Clergy And Their Impersonal And Rushed Approach To The Spiritual Needs Of The Bereaved
  • Spiritual Care Must Be A Part Of The Physical Care; It’s More Durable… It Lasts Lifetimes
  • In Mortuary Practice No One Gives Much Thought To The Living, The Survivors, Life To Be Lived
  • A True Professional Knows The Trade, Anticipates The Client’s Needs, Recognizes Knows His Or Her Personal And Professional Boundaries
  • Most People Are Guilty Of The Arch-Sin Of Fear Or Ignorance, Each Of Which Is A Form Of Laziness
  • Costs Can Be Minimized If The Funeral Home Has An On-Call Officiant / Chaplain
  • The On-Call Or P.R.N. Officiant / Chaplain Forms A Therapeutic And Pastoral Alliance With The Family
  • The Functionary-Spectator Model Is Not Only Antiquated And Obsolete, It’s Downright Unhealthy
  • The Family Is Assured Of A Service Tailored To The Family’s Culture, Beliefs, Practices, Composition, And Specific expectations
  • More Often Than Not The Family Will Work Hard To Provide Any Support They Can
  • They Appreciate The Fact That Someone Knows That They Still Hurt
  • The Chaplain, In Virtue Of His Or Her Education, Training, Experience, Vocation Has A Certain Authority
  • The Lines Between Faiths And Belief Systems Are Quite Blurred At Times
  • The Professional Bereavement Chaplain Will Know How To Incorporate The Bizarre With The Traditional
  • It’s A Vocation, Not A Job.

CONCLUSION

The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain is an important but frequently overlooked professional support person available to the funeral home as well as to mourners. As a professional member of the funeral home team the on-call or p.r.n. chaplain assumes the responsibility for the funeral and memorial service design, organization, coordination, execution, and follow-up, freeing the funeral home staff to concern itself with other important matters. As a highly trained, empathetic, authentic, facilitator and support person, the professional interfaith chaplain provides essential and necessary support to the bereaved and mourners, and forms a de facto therapeutic alliance with them, facilitating the grief work necessary to the healing and transformation process.

The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads

On the more mundane side, the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a cost-saving model for both the mortuary services provider and for the consumer of mortuary services. The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads by being available for effective liturgical, spiritual, religious or humanistic services on site at the funeral home or mortuary services facility, practically eliminating the need for organizing and coordinating resources for complicated and costly movements of staff, equipment, remains, and mourners. The funeral liturgical service, the memorial service or other rites are done right at the funeral home. The chaplain processes then with the cortège directly to the cemetery or crematorium for the graveside, cremation, or columbarium rites.

The Funeral Home Staff Should Bear In Mind The Importance Of Spiritual And Religious Or Pastoral Care Support

In the context of the 21st century death and bereavement culture, the professional interfaith chaplain plays an enormously important role both to the funeral home or mortuary services provider and to the bereaved and mourners. Wherever possible, the funeral home staff should bear in mind the importance of spiritual and religious or pastoral care support to the bereaved and should impress the importance of such support to families when making funeral arrangements. Even if the bereaved do not list a religious or faith preference, even if they do not belong to or actively participate with a faith or belief community, they may have a significant religious commitment without even realizing it, and will benefit from the meaning-making and closure effects of a well-designed funeral or memorial service. It would be a disservice if funeral home staff and mortuary service providers were to ignore this important element of mortuary services.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Subheadings:

  • Discuss The Benefits Of A Spiritual, Religious Or Humanistic Funeral Or Memorial Service With The Bereaved
  • The Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain Will Be Compassionately Present For You
  • The Interfaith Chaplain Be Non – Judgmental And Tolerant Of The Family’s Unique Systems

Empirical observation supports the medical, psychiatric, psychological, pastoral care literature and the growing consensus that spiritual care, whether religious or non – religious, plays a significant role in the health and well-being of all sufferers, including the bereaved. Spiritual care supports the mourner in myriad ways both in the acute grief period into the grief work and mourning stages and well beyond. Spiritual care as offered by the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a significant added value to the funeral home’s product offerings and further represents substantial tangible and intangible benefits to the insightful funeral services manager and his or her establishment.

Corresponding author:
Chaplain Harold W. Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain
P.O. 422
New Baltimore, New York 12124 – 0422
e-Mail: Compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com

Click here to view or to download the entire article: Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain-An Essential Asset.

A New Blog on Homiletics


Many of our readers are pastoral or spiritual care providers, and only some actually have the opportunity to teach or to preach in a formal way, that is, by way of sermons or homilies.

Here is the Link to Our New Blog, Homiletics and Spiritual Care


When Listening is Greater than Talking

Why the homilist should be a more skilled listener to be a better talker.

bible-notebook

I feel that bereavement provides one of those moments of what we theologians call kairos, a supreme opportunity. If spiritual care providers are blessed with the opportunity to officiate at funeral or memorial celebrations, such opportunities are kairos moments not only for practicing our ministry of compassion for the suffering but also for proclaiming our fundamental sacred doctrines on living and dying, and what may come after.

We tend to talk a lot about homiletics and talk is what we apparently do best. But homiletics, good homiletics and the product, the revealing homily, requires good listening skills. Dag Hammarskold said, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak.”  This brings me to mind two ways of communicating with that voice within: lectio divina and the lesser known lectio continua. I’ll have more to say about those two disciplines and their role in homiletics in a later article on the Homiletics and Sprititual Care blog. Reflection and self-examination are also very important when it comes to listening authentically. Again, I’ll comment on these in a later editorial.

 

For now it may be interesting to look at some listening statistics:

listening-statistics

But here are some more startling listening facts:

Listening is the communication skill most of us use the most frequently. Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.

Thought speed greater than speaking speed. Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).

So listening is a critical skill that needs to be developed by us as spiritual care providers, particularly those of us involved in a teaching/preaching ministry that requires us to confect effective homilies.

big ear buddha 2

No doubt you have seen depictions of the Buddha with long pendulous ears and probably have asked yourself, “Why does Buddha have such big ears?” Well, in the Orient large ears are looked upon as auspicious because they indicate wisdom and compassion. So, the Buddha is depicted as having big ears because he is the compassionate one. He hears the sound of the world – hears the cries of suffering beings – and responds. The important thing for us is not how large our ears are, but how open are our “mind ears.”

As a professional interfaith chaplain practicing primarily in bereavement and grief facilitation, I find that listening, effective authentic listening is profoundly important in several prominent situations:

  • Initial interview
  • Family interview
  • During lectio divina and lectio continua
  • During reflection on potential readings
  • When selecting hymns
  • When rehearsing the homily.

Listening for the interfaith chaplain is also especially important when communicating with colleagues in spiritual care ministries of other faith and belief traditions, and in exchanges with hospital, nursing home, funeral home staff, and with members of the community.

An important concept to bear in mind when writing homilies is that while the assembly is listening to the words, the sounds coming from my vocal apparatus, they should be moved to listen to the internal voice that speaks in them during that outside listening. After all, that’s our target as homilists, to get that internal voice speaking and the listener listening to that voice.

Chaplain Harold

ListenHeart

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