The Maine Funeral Directors Clergy Seminar

Todd Van Beck's picture

I just returned from doing three clergy seminars on behalf of the Maine Funeral Directors Association, and I was inspired to put some thoughts down on paper.

Over the last 40 years that I have been running around the globe doing seminars and lectures, there are some state funeral association I have bonded tightly with, that I have connected with and that I feel a true sense of kinship with, and the Maine Funeral Directors Association qualifies as one of those groups.

For over 30 years, I have been honored and privileged to make trips to the great state of Maine, and Lord knows how beautiful that grand place is—breathtaking is the word.  I have traveled from Portland to Presque Isle presenting a variety of topics ranging from my old standby seminar (now ancient) “The Assassination and Funeral of Abraham Lincoln” to business management topics, to bereavement/grief seminars—well, the list of seminars and talks goes on and on.

This time, however, my specific assignment was working with clergy guests, and I must confess I was gratified and pleased with the turnout.  Many Maine funeral professionals stepped up to the plate and brought clergy guests.  As far as I could tell over three days and many hours of work, all went well, though, of course, there was one grumpy chap who took me to task saying the average lifespan for a male was 73, not 78 as I had mistakenly put on the flip chart.  I was duly corrected and put in my place, made my apologies for my ignorance but privately thought the gentleman must be a spy for the Maine Department of Vital Statistics.

Truth is, there is always one of those types of characters in every seminar, and I have gotten comfortable in being told about my glaring inadequacies over these many years; it just goes with the seminar territory.

This post is not really about the content of the clergy seminar, although I want to share that once again I tried my best to make the following points which I have concluded are significant in bereavement care:

1) It is a crying shame that seminaries generally place so little importance on teaching grief psychology (the Maine clergy readily agreed that they had been ill prepared in their seminary education to minister to the grieving);

2) that religious institutions are the perfect place to teach and hence increase people’s own personal death awareness;

3) that there is great wisdom in people embracing their own mortality and hence experiencing what I call “eschatological urgency” (a five-dollar theological word meaning in essence the ability to feel the urgency to live life by coming to terms with our own mortality).

Anyway, that was about it concerning content, and the clergy responded very well to the information, not because of any skill on my part, but because they have never been exposed to anything academically about grief that contained substance and essential depth, and hence they were sponges when some solid information came their way, even if it came from a fellow like me.

However it is on the theme of “depth and essence” I would like to talk about here concerning many of the members of the Maine Funeral Directors Association.

Here and there, every now and then, just once in a while, a group emerges with a depth and essence of mission and service to others attitude that impresses me to the core, and the Maine Funeral Directors Association is one of those organizations.

Throughout the many times that my path has fortunately crossed the paths of the Maine Funeral Directors Association, I have never once experienced a disappointment.  The members almost uniformly have an attitude of committed service to others.  They basically live in the example of “you cannot enrich yourself until you first enrich the lives of others.”

When I was a student at NEI in Boston I went to Mortuary College with several chaps who were from Maine or who by career situations located to Maine, and every time I see these old chums again we walk over memory lane concerning the famous Kenmore Square (where NEI was located), the old J.S. Waterman building, the Rathskeller Bar, the Kenmore Club and a interesting haunt called, of all things, “Lucifer’s.”  Kenmore Square was in the heart of the Back Bay and it was a great place to be a student.  It was great fun!

It is gratifying for me in these tumultuous days and times to watch professional funeral service people tend to the important business of caring for the dead and simultaneously caring for the living, and so many of the members of the Maine group truly fit this description.

It has been my honor over these many years to hobnob with these good people, and I wanted to share these thoughts.  As time has marched forward I have witnessed a slowing of the formal times in which funeral directors and clergy come together to commiserate on the important issues which face both professional callings.  Twenty years ago clergy/funeral director seminars were very frequent, but I believe this type of activity has slowed down or is slowing down – and this is attributable to a variety of reasons, not the least being the secularization of our society.

But with that said, and with the movements to involve non-clergy in funeral rituals, I feel a need to share because of my most recent experiences with the work that the Maine group organized that the connection, communication, relationship building, and mutual interests shared by both clergy and funeral directors has not in the least lessened in its importance from years gone by. In fact, with the very secularization of our society, and from the outcome of our Maine clergy seminars, I would humbly suggest this type of effort on the part of funeral professionals is more important today than ever before.

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion.  TVB