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Monday, January 21, 2008

blooper reel

I've decided to take a break from the serious and share one of my pastoral bloopers. I figure everybody needs a laugh now and again, and some laypeople may not realize that pastoring isn't all super-serious, spiritual business. Sometimes it's the context of that serious spiritual stuff that makes the blunder so funny in the first place.

Here's what happened....

I was 2-3 years into my first call, the associate pastor at a First Presbyterian Church in a small, southern town. We got news in the church office that an elderly woman had died and once she had some affiliation with our church. We looked back 40 years and couldn't find her, but believing that every person deserves a decent burial, the senior pastor "suggested" that I take this one on by myself. I had co-officiated a few funerals with him, so this would be a good opportunity to gain some experience at doing the whole thing on my own. And after all, it was just a graveside service... simple, no sermon, a few lines from the Psalms and a prayer. What could go wrong?

My first indication that this would not be a typical graveside service was the sisters. The deceased had two sisters, also over 80. During the whole service, they were arguing (even poking and pinching) about being in each others' space. It was just like when my little brother and I would fight about the "dividing line" in the back of my dad's car on the way to the beach, except these were elderly women elbowing each other at their sister's funeral.

But their behavior is not the noteworthy part. I concluded the brief service and moved to speak to the family as I had been taught to do. There was the usual tent and fuzzy covered folding chairs, and a large piece of Astroturf running under all of it and up over the spot where the deceased would be put to rest. I hadn't really paid much attention to those details, but my brain was shortly going to piece all of this together.

As I straightened up to walk toward the family, I felt the heel of my dress shoes press down against the Astroturf, when sank down a bit before coming in contact with the ground beneath it. I thought nothing of it, but facing the family saw their mouths all open at once and a collective gasp emerged. As time slowed down, my brain did not and pieced together the scene behind me. My heel had tugged on the Astroturf and literally pulled the rug out from under... the urn full of ashes.

I had all that figured out before I heard the metal urn crash behind me. In my mind's eye I could see ashes fluttering in the breeze of the day. And in that moment I heard one of the two sisters mutter, "Well, she and church never got along much."


Though that moment seemed interminable, when I turned around to see the devastation, I saw the funeral home assistant picking up a small plastic bag of ashes and tucking it back in the urn. In great relief that the remains had not been inadvertently scattered, I whispered to him, "That must be why they put them in a bag... in case this happens." He replied, "I've been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen that before!"

Link: Blooper Real, pt. 2

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