Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Preacher’s Corner
In some situations, rules don’t quite work
Some of you have been to the Fontaine House in Memphis’ Victorian Village and perhaps saw the interesting exhibit on funeral and mourning customs in the Old South. The Victorian era had an etiquette for dying with as many strictures as that many-ruled culture had for living. Remember how scandalized all Atlanta was when Scarlett O’Hara danced with Rhett Butler at a Confederate ball before her prescribed time of mourning for her dead husband was over?
Every minister is confronted by situations where the rules don’t quite work, which are humorous in spite of their seriousness. The Revs. Will Berger and Sally Hughes, pastor-friends in Tennessee, recently told me of such an occasion.
It seems that a widely loved hunter died suddenly, and his widow immediately called Will and Sally to come and be with the family. They went right away and took seats with the gathering group of friends in the gentleman’s den, which was full of his hunting paraphernalia and trophies including a special telephone in the shape of a duck. The receiver hung from the mallard’s outstretched wing.
My friends spoke a few words of consolation, and were leading the group in prayer when suddenly the mallard began to quack! The widow picked up the receiver, quietly received the message and hung up so that the petition to the Almighty could be concluded.
For the rest of the afternoon, acquaintances came by and wept, arrangements were made with the funeral home, shock and sadness came in waves, and the quacking duck continued to announce the telephoned condolences of friends and relatives. The incongruity seemed not to bother the family at all, since they were so used to their duck phone, but my friends were so startled by the whole scene that they could barely suppress laughter, especially when Will would catch Sally’s all-knowing eye.
Finally Will suggested to a granddaughter that she find another extension phone which could be brought into the den and hooked up, “so it wouldn’t ring so loud.”
Every minister knows a tale where a hapless preacher stood too close and slipped into the grave during a funeral. The particular version of the story I know (and which I know on good authority to be true) involved a particularly straitlaced beady-eyed Presbyterian minister at Hazlehurst, later a professor of worship at a Carolina divinity school.
The pretentious cleric, resplendent in flowing white robes, went down almost before anyone could gasp — the universal memory being those piercing, beady eyes wide and slipping into the abyss.
The best part was that everybody said the deceased would have hugely enjoyed the event! The pretentious preacher long ago went to his reward, but I think of him every time I officiate in the cemetery.
People will also remember that North Carolina quacking duck phone for years and give thanks for a very good friend who loved his sport and his family. They may also be grateful for the presence of their ministers who went to a family in grief and watched over their gathering and who cared for their people in a time of great need.
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