Last week we buried my friend Doug. Doug was a modern day renaissance man. He knew many things, could do many things, and was his own man. Over the years, Doug infused Native American spiritual practices, love for classic rock music, and a green thumb into his Christian life. The result was an unorthodox, organic relationship with his God.
When we met in our office to plan Doug’s service, the family had many ideas. Some Doug requested. Others the family desired. The communion table was to hold a bonsai tree, a small wooden box with Doug’s ashes, and a boulder [Doug was prone to wearing this boulder to punctuate special occasions]. Ministers were to robe. “Amazing Grace” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” along with a video tribute were to be in the order of worship. The practice of the family entering the sanctuary following the ministers and the offering of the committal collect found in The Book of Common Prayer needed to be included. Likewise time for congregational sharing about Doug, a pre-service video set to classic rock and the Rolling Stones classic “You Can’t Always get What You Want” needed to be included in the order.
Did I mention Doug was an eclectic man? Did I mention that while he loved traditional, formal worship Doug and his God rocked out as he molded and shaped things with his hands? How does one pay tribute . . . authentic tribute to such a life?
In God’s grace and mercy what resulted was probably the most meaningful service I have officiated to date. Somehow the ebb and flow of the service lead itself to inspire ten plus students Doug had over the years to share how “Ballentine” changed their life. Doug’s co-worker and daughter-in-law spoke of Doug’s integrity and commitment to teaching students to think. They spoke of his midlife career change to teaching, his ability to engage people of all ages in many disciplines, his knowledge and his love of life . . . and family. After the students spoke, I read a letter from Doug’s widow and the video tribute was played. The service concluded with the offering of the committal collect, transitional words, and the playing of the Rolling Stones version of their classic.
Can The Book of Common Prayer and the Rolling Stones be used in designing a funeral? Yes, but the placement in the order of worship is critical. You have to create a flow and make sure to insert elements in a pattern that does not distract from the whole. You must know where you want the service to end and plan how you want the service to get there.
As I watched the faces in the congregation I could not help but weep. Participants of all ages rocked out with huge smiles on their faces and tears flowing. The song punctuated Doug’s life perfectly. True, a few shook their heads or looked down in obvious displeasure but others “remembered Doug” in an unorthodox, organic way. See . . . as unorthodox as it sounds the Rolling Stones classic was the perfect conclusion to this memorial service for the song we find these words “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need,” which by the way preaches every time.
Katrina Stipe Brooks is co-pastor of North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia.