Cross-border funerals and bereavement care

DSCN1055cw(Lillies)Our parish churches and their ministers, have certain responsibilities. These include, as I understand it, the requirement to baptise, marry and bury those who request such ‘occasional offices’.

Whilst reflecting recently on my own past practice in taking funerals, I came a broader reflection on the way the Church of England approaches the care they offer at some funerals, which may simply be about the way my local patch has done things in the past, but may have a broader application. I’d welcome your thoughts:

It concerns what happens when a family from outside the parish approach a church requesting a funeral for a loved-one, because of some prior connection, most often previous residence and the fact a relative is already buried in the local churchyard or cemetery.

For other occasional offices, contact is also established in some form with the family’s local church. With baptisms, permission is typically sought from their local parish church, and in some cases baptism preparation may take place there. With weddings, assuming banns are required, formal contact is also required between the couple and the place, or places they live. There is also an encouragement through the wedding project to seek the prayer support of the parish you live in.

I am aware of no such tradition of missional contact with their parish of residence when families return to a community to have a relative buried; but do correct me if I’m wrong!

So, I’m wondering if, with the family’s approval, it would be helpful and good practice, to contact the local parish or minister of grieving relatives, so that further bereavement support could be provided by the wider church, especially since it could prove difficult for your own parish and it’s pastoral team to follow through with such work?

Otherwise, there may be a danger of leaving families isolated from other appropriate sources of Christian pastoral care, and as Christian ministers we may also be guilty of compromising our own missional capacity.

Is this something that the current research project started last year by the Archbishop’s Council could, or should, consider?

Encounter Baptism and Thanksgiving – reflections on the first session

At the end of October we had our first ‘Encounter’ session, to which those who had expressed an interest in having children baptised were invited.

I laid out the plan of the day here, and thankfully it pretty much went to plan.

From a practical view-point one of the big successes was the informal lunch with the chance to talk to people – something we can make better use of by using this time to share information about our services and activities for young families, so that can be immediately discussed informally, rather than be drawn into more ‘baptism’ related discussions.

Another good point (other than the popularity of the puppets) was having a couple talk about why they chose to have a Thanksgiving. None of the families actually took up the idea this time, but it was much better having the idea drawn into discussion through the story of real people.

There are various logistical tweeks we need to make, but one of the interesting things about people’s questions was that so many of them revolved around the minutiae of the service, like ‘how many Godparents can there be?’ Perhaps we need to cover more of this information in the preliminary leaflet the families receive when they have enquired and get an invitation to ‘Encounter’, but there is the equal danger that people don’t always read what they’re given anyway!

Encouraging for me though was the response of our (fairly new) vicar to questions about how Baptism (to some extent) and Thanksgiving services (to a greater extent) could be personalised to the ‘story’ of a particular family or birth, whilst still being part of morning worship of some sort. We already make use of songs that are familiar to families who have engaged with our Wayfinder groups and Messy Church, but he has felt able to pick up on a Pentecost healing that enabled one recent birth and later committed to having an infant baptism next Pentecost.

This is the sort of idea that I later found reflected in this excellent reflection on the SPCK blog (where the book that is recommended would be a suitable gift for parents attending ‘Encounter’ if we could afford it). I look forward to seeing how it can be made to work practically, or if this instance will prove something of a minority case. It all depends I suspect on how much people’s experiences of God’s activity in their lives, pre-date their wish to have a child baptised.

The problem I see is that the families that engaged with ‘Encounter’ last month, all had some connection with us as their local church (even if only at an ‘exploring’ stage), and therefore relating the service to their experiences of faith (so far) can be relevant to them. None of the families that had made enquiries about baptism, but weren’t already attending something around our fellowship, accepted our invitation to ‘Encounter’ this time.

Only time will tell whether this pattern is repeated. I hope it isn’t, because for me, encouraging this group of people to engage with the fellowship of the church, as a pre-cursor to engaging with the faith they want their child baptised into, has got to be the key aim of ‘Encounter’.

Encounter – Baptism and Thanksgiving Preparation

OK, so this is the first blog post I’ve ever done ‘by request’! It comes out of a Sunday night conversation on Twitter about Baptisms and Baptism preparation.

Baptism preparation was probably the area of ministry in vacancy that became almost impossible to keep up with by simply visiting individual families one by one. I knew I wasn’t being very effective, and was sure that it wasn’t really engaging people with the church, even though I worked hard to show this CPAS video, talk through their reactions to what baptism is really about, show them the liturgy/promises and encourage families to attend services/Wayfinders/Messy. The supporting Deanery clergy were always great too at visiting the families after me, before they got to the ‘dunking’ stage!

There was a constant backlog of families wanting to be ‘done’, and often people upset that the process is slower than they would like. Some of that can’t be changed, but I was sure some of it could be.

But the new vicar arrived with a plan… or at least something that had worked in his last parish that we could adapt. Now he’s in Malawi doing other useful stuff for a fortnight and I’m trying to make the first shot at “Encounter” happen in St Peter’s for when he gets back! The big encouragement has been so many folk from our congregations want to get involved helping, making this a better example of the active, faith-full fellowship share.

The idea is that a whole group of families enquiring about baptism are invited to “Encounter” – that helps with the visiting load immediately.

They are invited to come to our 11.15am service, where because it’s a nice time of morning most of our baptisms take place. (Even though it’s not necessarily the most family orientated of our congregations they are very welcoming and know how much their ministry is needed).

Then we’re going to offer them a light buffet lunch of kid friendly food… St Peter’s does catering really well, and hopefully it’s a chance for some informal chatter about what goes in at church and people’s reactions to having seen a baptism happen.

Next will be a song by our Peter’s Puppets… to break the ice, show them something different and get them sat in ‘church’ again after lunch.

After a brief intro to what’s going to happen, we’ll show them the CPAS First Steps DVD – hopefully via laptop and data-projector on the big screen (it lasts roughly 10 minutes). Then our lovely new vicar will discuss with them for 15 mins-ish some of their reactions to the baptism service they went to earlier, their expectations of baptism, the symbolism in baptism (cross, water, light). He’s been a vicar 20+ years so I guess he knows how to do so much so quickly, though having seen the DVD will help – I shall watch and learn!

Then one of our church families who have chosen to have a Thanksgiving Services for their children will talk for five minutes about why, and what it includes and doesn’t include.

Next up will be two of our children’s leaders talking about Wayfinders (our Bible-based baby/toddler groups), Messy Church (monthly) and other kids groups. This is because increasingly we find families wanting bulk baptisms with the eldest children sometimes being well into school age.

As we get towards the end there will be another song from Peter’s Puppets, before I explain how they can now book a Baptism or Thanksgiving Service if they want to go ahead with the idea. Booking a baptism will be by 1st/2nd/3rd choice of some dates we offer on a form… we will then confirm by phone. For Thanksgivings, these don’t need to be in a morning service, so will be booked direct with the vicar I think. They won’t be able to book at Encounter (so they have a cooling off period, and we don’t get a ‘rugby scrum’ of bidding for dates), but will need to drop the form back to us after they’ve had a ‘cooling off’ period to discuss all they’ve seen and heard!

The vicar will close the session by about 2.15pm with prayer, and we’ll hand out the response/application forms at the door as they leave!

The leaflet I’ve just finished to send out with the invitations is here, but please remember even the vicar hasn’t seen it yet because he’s in Malawi, so I’m expecting him to edit it before our second session of Encounter: Encounter Baptism-Thanksgiving Leaflet Oct11 I’m hoping the new vicar doesn’t mind me sharing all this – it’s his bright idea after all… I’m just doing what I call “the knitting”!

I’m really encouraged by the number of people who have volunteered to “do stuff”, especially the puppet team, our ‘thanksgiving’ family, and our children’s leaders.

So, that’s the plan for October 30th.  Thanks to Revd Simon Cutmore and Revd James Ogley (among others) for encouraging me to blog about it. Feel free to pray for us that day, and I’ll report back at the end of the month on how it went!