Understanding the Religious Response to Death
This page is written and submitted by North Scott Clergy Group influenced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Reverend Robert Bartel
Park View Lutheran
Pastor George McCord
Living Church of Jesus Christ
Reverend Dick Clark
Eldridge United Methodist Church
Reverend Dan Mixdorf
Faith Lutheran Church
Reverend Steve Ebel
St. Ann's Catholic Church
Reverend Scott Pearson
Cornerstone Baptist Church
Reverend David Herron
Our Savior Presbyterian
Reverend Dawn Phares
New Hope United Methodist Church
Reverend Edythe Hill
McCausland United Methodist Church
Reverend Kathleen Thomas
Long Grove Christian Church
Reverend Rick Johnson
Manager, Pastoral Care,
Genesis Medical Center
The events of birth and death are life's greatest mysteries. In both, there is an acute awareness that life is very valuable. There is no language to express it. Death is the most solemn of human events. We immediately sense a loss that is greater than all the other losses experienced in life.
People vary in their responses to death as they attempt to make sense of its mystery. The question "why", is an attempt to make sense of one's own suffering, the meaning of life and death, and where God is found in the midst of it. Questions about death, meaning, absurdity, destiny, and trust in God are faith questions.
Death is by nature a social event. It breaks in on a community, reminding us all of our finitude. It rearranges relationships in families, among friends, and in the wider community. The care of grieving souls is best understood, not just as individual care for a single person, but also as interpersonal or corporate.
The faith community is available to support people (students, teachers, siblings) as they ask these questions and seek a support that extends through and beyond the awesome mystery of death.
The presence of clergy on a Crisis Management Team, offers a unique ministry of presence. It is one of "being with," an attentive presence that represents the faith community, and a witness to the insurmountable power and goodness of God. It is expected that clergy will be significantly present both as interpreters and counselors in the midst of such brokenness, and a resource for hope and faith at a time of pain, confusion, and disorientation.
The faith community also responds to death at the funeral. The purpose of the funeral is to celebrate the person's life, offer thanks to the Creator and Sustainer of life, and to support those who grieve by using and offering or sharing resources of faith. Foundational resources are prayer, the comforting word of God, the Spirit of God, and a shared memory. The funeral has social and psychological functions, bringing family and friends together in a supportive community. The church commends the dead to God's merciful love and at the same time affirms that although the dead are separated from us, there is still a spiritual bond that exists between the living and the dead.
Whatever the cause of death, e.g. accident, natural causes, or suicide, the role of the clergy conducting the funeral is to care for the bereaved with compassion and offer the unqualified support of the faith community. The clergy person would do well to be sensitive to the interfaith makeup of the students assembled and therefore offer a service that is ecumenical in nature. That service would offer a witness to the trustworthiness of God and the hope of resurrection.