Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My great big Agnostic Funeral

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a meeting of Faith Formation leaders from the Episcopal Diocese of Upper SC.  It was a wonderful group with a dynamic interesting speaker.  I thought about a lot of things, and I thought about things differently.  I went away inspired in my work with the children of St. Michael and All Angel's Episcopal Church, brimming with thoughts to share with the kids and the marvelous teachers.

But one comment/mini-discussion threw me off.  It didn't offend me, but it gave me a small ray of AHA!  Well, more like a hmmmm.  Something to think and pray on for awhile.

The speaker, Kyle Oliver, asked if anyone had ever been to a non-religious funeral.  Only a couple of people raised their hands, that I could see.  He said, "Wasn't it odd?  Didn't it feel wrong?"

And I said, very softly, no, it felt wonderful.

I was not always a Faith Formation leader in an Episcopal Church.  I was baptized and raised Catholic, and went to church and catechism classes until high school.  I was confirmed on my 13th birthday... but that's another story.  I was Catholic because my father was raised Catholic and my parents believed that it's important to be a member of a church.  Not for faith formation, but because in SC, the first question anyone asks you is "What church do you go to?"  St. Peter's Catholic Church is the wrong answer, but at least it is an answer.

My parents were agnostic or atheist, I'm not really sure.  I believed in God from a very young age, and don't know what it feels like to not believe.  But I do know that belief --- real belief, real experience of the Holy Spirit --- is a gift and not everyone has it.  My parents were Good People.  They treated others as they would like to be treated.  They found the good in people, they spoke out for the speechless.  While they were not religious people, they acted in a way that would be called Christian around here.

And so their memorial services were not religious ceremonies.  In both cases, people who loved them and people whom they loved came together to celebrate their lives.  It was humbling to realize how much each of my parents affected other people's lives.  The services were joyful and sad.  We laughed, we cried, we told inappropriate stories.  Afterwards, we drank too much and laughed and cried some more.

And so, when Father Oliver asked if it was odd, I thought no.  And then I thought, how in the world do you expect to attract people of good faith (small "f") if you think they are odd?  If your attitude is, here, I have the truth for you and you are obviously suffering and stupid.  I write this, and can't really hear Father Oliver saying this, but, y'know, that's kind of what he said.  That's kind of what I hear people say at my church when they talk about Atheists and Agnostics --- talking about people as if they are debauched baby-killers. 

If your way to God is through Jesus Christ, God doesn't like it when you block the path from others.  God doesn't like it when you call God's people odd.  I'm pretty sure... She didn't tell me in so many words.

One of my favorite hymns is "They will know we are Christians by our Love."  Not our tracts, not our lectures on how not to be odd, not our bruised knees.  They will know we are Christians by our Love, and with the Grace of God, they will want to be with people like us.  And maybe we can love and appreciate the face of God in all people, even those who don't pray like we do or even pray at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I loved this. Thank you!