Then again, maybe it's just me...
The first time was a number of years ago. A friend had moved back to town and although he didn’t tell us up front, it was soon obvious that he was dying. My friend was dying of AIDS and he’d come home to do so. We had a grand old time as long as he was healthy enough. In the end it pneumonia that defeated him. Kevin had always been this fun, funny, guy who never sat still. I’d known him since our high school days in band. Losing him was hard.
His funeral service was at the local Baptist church where he and his family had been members all their lives. His dad was a hard working man whom I’d worked for when I was just out of college and was a cashier at the local A&P. Thomas is a big, gentle man who raised two children alone for years after his wife died. Kevin was his only son.
As we sat in that church, the preacher began to talk about Kevin not being right with God, having chosen to live a life against the teachings of the Bible. Although he didn’t use the exact words, he pretty much told us that Kevin was in hell. I was sitting alone in the balcony with another friend who had been close to Kevin and also happened to be gay. This friend was a very involved member of this church and was working sound for the service. He too had been raised in this church that was supposed to be his spiritual home. Here we sat, him being gay and me with a gay brother. I turned to him and he was crying. I was angry – so angry I almost stomped down those stairs and out of there. I couldn’t believe this man was putting Kevin’s family and friends through this. Not to mention that he was dead wrong.
It was a horrible experience and one that I’ll never forget. Yesterday wasn’t quite so bad but it bothered me nonetheless.
I happen to believe that a funeral is a time for remembering and saying goodbye to the person who has passed. I have attended some wonderful services dedicated to honoring that person.
Yesterday at Angi’s service, the pastor spoke very little of her. What he said was very nice but it wasn’t the focus of his sermon. Instead he chose to try to save souls. He expounded on all the reasons that we should be prepared to die by accepting Christ as our savior because that’s what he says is the only way to get to heaven. He finished by asking everyone to bow their heads while he asked by a show of hands if there was anyone there who was not prepared for death but wanted to be. Then he asked how many were already prepared. I did not raise my hand for two reasons – 1. I don’t believe it’s any of his business and 2. I don’t believe Christ is the only way to heaven (think of the Jews, Muslims, Hindis, etc.). I was not the only one who didn’t raise a hand. He finished by sternly warning those of us who didn’t raise our hands about not being prepared because it meant that if we died we would never see Angi and other loved ones in the hereafter. (Insert me rolling my eyes here)
Next he asked everyone to start from the back of the chapel and come up and pay our last respects to Angi as we filed out the door up front. He then stood up there next to the casket for folks to shake his hand and thank him for his sermon and basically keep the focus on him. Since I was in the second pew, I got to see everyone behind me go up there and do this. Some didn’t even pay attention to Angi but just shook the pastor’s hand and gave him an attaboy. As I walked toward the front, I stopped to hug Troy then walked up to say my final goodbye to Angi. When I finished, I turned my back on the pastor without a glance and went instead to Angi’s family – her mother, father, sister, and sister-in-law – who were the ones along with Troy and the girls that should be the main focus. They were hurting over the loss of Angi. It was the time and place to honor that rather than the man that had used the opportunity to grandstand.
I’ll never understand preachers like this. It’s one of the many, many reasons I could never attend a church with that type of pastor.
On a happier note, we were able to honor Angi on Tuesday night. Several of us sat around telling Angi stories and I could almost hear her giggling along with us. Godspeed, Ang.