Theological Sorrow

As I have written before, because of sickness, we are homebound these days, and we have updated our funeral plans and our obituaries. Not because we are at death’s door, but because we want to make such plans precisely when we are NOT at death’s door.

But I have been kept up nights of late thinking about something I have always planned to have at my funeral — which now seems nearly impossible. So if there are any clergy or professorial theologians around who will weigh in, that would be welcome.

First, please, pardon a little family background.

My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, became a Lutheran Minister, like three of his brothers. He served his third call as Pastor of Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio, from 1924 until 1941. His last official act at Augsburg was to perform the marriage of my parents in 1941. He headed to Columbus, Ohio, the next day, to assume the presidency of the ULCA Synod of Ohio from 1941 until 1957. He died later that same year. I never knew my grandfather as I was born a year after his death, but my parents eventually returned to Augsburg, which is where I was baptized and confirmed.

After high school in Toledo, I went to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and then headed to seminary because I wanted to be a pastor. At some point, I was required to go to career counseling to see if I was suited to be a pastor. I believe it was something the Ohio Synod required. When the testing was over, the counselor met with me to explain the results. He told me that I was best suited to be a Roman Catholic Priest. I responded that the outcome was beyond intriguing and asked him why the testing would come out that way. He somewhat sheepishly replied that the examination was weighted in such a way that those more interested in Liturgy and Sacraments came out as priests and those that ranked a little higher in spaghetti suppers and glad-handing came out as pastors. You can’t make it up! I’m sure that explanation wouldn’t sit well with all the very liturgical and theologically gifted Lutheran pastors I know.

I went to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and graduated with a Master of Divinity Degree. I did the required internship and clinical pastoral education. I was approved for ordination by the Ohio Synod of the ELCA. For a variety of personal reasons, I did not pursue ordination. My former husband, the father of our only child, is now Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at a seminary of the North American Lutheran Church.

During her college years, our daughter was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. She and her husband and children are Roman Catholics. During my 24 years of living in South Carolina, I was a member of several (ELCA) Lutheran churches. Years later, when my second husband Ron and I moved to Arizona, we joined a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, chiefly because all of the ELCA churches that he had previously attended were too far from our home, southeast of Tucson. We felt very much at home and had an excellent pastor and many wonderful friends at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.  When we moved to Ohio, to get me closer to my brothers, we joined another Missouri Synod congregation, where we also have an excellent pastor and have made some wonderful friends.

Now, returning to the point of this post. Ever since I was a young woman in seminary, I have wanted to have full communion at my funeral service. I’ve attended church all my life. I have sung in church choirs off & on since I was in Kindergarten. Somewhere around eighth grade, I switched from piano to organ lessons and then started substituting for Sunday worship and funeral services. I have long been active in worship planning. Both my former husband and I were chairs, at different times, of the Worship and Music Committee of our liturgical church in Columbia, South Carolina.  Working with the Pastor and the amazingly gifted organist, we helped take that congregation to weekly communion with a common cup.

The draft of my funeral service was first done years ago and has seen a few revisions over the years. I planned the service with many gutsy hymns and full communion.

I have heard the reflections of others speak of the relief or joy of receiving communion at a funeral. It allows people to confess their part in any conflicts that may have existed between themselves and the deceased and receive forgiveness.

But alas, it seems that my wishes are impossible on earth.  I am a member of a church that has closed communion. My daughter and many of my extended friends and family are members of another church with closed communion.  So neither my family nor many of my friends, who are Roman Catholics or NALC or ELCA Lutherans, will be allowed to receive communion at my funeral service.

Right now, as my husband and I deal with issues of health and the frustrations of being homebound Christians, this particular sorrow has loomed large in my mind. I confess it has caused me to shed more than a few tears.


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3 Responses to Theological Sorrow

  1. bcornelius62 says:

    You write so well. Closed communion is a practice that doesn’t leave us emotionally at rest. I understand, but know that whenever your daughter takes communion for the rest of her life, you will be there at the altar with her, for where Christ is, there are the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.
    By the way, my friend live 2 blocks from Augsburgnin Toledo.

  2. ceafryer says:

    My heart goes out to you, Ann. For many years I have been grieved at not being able to share the sacrament with people who are beloved to me. Someone once said that this is a suffering that we bear because of the divisions within the Body of Christ. On the other hand, one of my favorite sayings is this: The walls that divide us do not reach all the way up to heaven. Thanks be to God.

  3. Sarah says:

    You could still have an ELCA church funeral, I suspect. That would open up communion on your end. When my parents switched to Holy Cross to follow Mr. B., they were comfortable because the pastor wasn’t firmly Missouri Synod, although the church was officially Missouri Synod. Given your age, you may be at a different church by the time you pass anyway. Closed communion and the limitations on women in leadership were deal breakers for me, but that’s just where I am. I’m hopeful you will be in a church, even a Missouri Synod one, that “looks the other way” when you need to be celebrated with what I imagine will be a glorious, high liturgy, awesome music, funeral!

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