Presiding at a funeral last week, I followed the usual protocol of leading a short procession from the hearse to the gravesite. The hearse parked close to a tent that had been erected. The body had been cremated and there was no stand for a casket nor a big pile of dirt thoughtfully covered by a dignified piece of funeral home carpet.
“That’s the spot,” I thought to myself. I headed in that direction leading the lone urn-bearing funeral home employee. There were no pall bearers. Fortunately, I glanced behind after a few steps. I was headed to the tent. The urn was headed in another direction. Seems the family didn’t want to rent a tent. A nice, square hole had been dug. Your humble hacker and plodder semi-retired pastor made a magnificent recovery and marched to the proper spot.
Cremations. They are with us always now. This isn’t news but it is interesting.
I’m semi-retired in the Deep South, Georgia, where there are innumerable Baptist churches more likely than not to be made of red brick, with pews inside, and old hymns sung.
Things are changing.
I chatted up the funeral director while waiting for the visitation to end.
“So, how many of your funerals are cremations these days?” I asked.
He gave an immediate and precise answer: “Fifty-four percent last year. It goes up a few percent every year. Year before last, it was forty-six percent.”
I’m reading that in around half of all funerals the body is cremated.
The part of Georgia I’m in, generally the Atlanta exurban area, is not typical of other parts of the state and I wonder what proportion cremations make up in Unadilla or Nahunta. Probably less. My small group at the church I attend has a wonderful bunch of serious believers who came to Georgia from Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio, New York and other states with strange customs.
It looks odd to see the funeral director place a small urn in a big hearse, although they are made now to accommodate them. I watched as he placed the urn in the slot and secured it with some mechanism. Wouldn’t want the thing to get loose and rattle all around the back of the hearse. I rather like the deliberate, choreographed funeral with a minister, the pallbearers sometimes struggling to carry the heavy casket to the grave site, and then the dignified lowering of it into the grave after the ceremony is over. Guess my day is past.
My read is that cremations are all about economics.
“When we had Momma cremated, it only cost $2,000. When we buried old aunt Cleo, we had her embalmed, bought the casket and all that, and it cost $12,000.
What could one do with $10,000 these days? Take a lot of cruises that depart from west coast ports, I suppose.
Does a cremation make any difference to you as a pastor, theologically or practically?
My wife sez: “You’ve got to pay more attention in the cemetery and not go walking off on your own.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply. My standard answer.