I recently attended a funeral of a dear friend of our family. It was held in our tastefully-appointed Church meetinghouse just outside Salt Lake City. Although the funeral service was pleasant enough, I was left dismayed that so much of the spotlight was on the deceased. Each of the talks was full of reminiscing. I was told that the hymns and other music were outlined in our friend’s will. Even more disturbing to me was that our friend’s portrait was printed on the program. President Boyd K. Packer and the other brethren have repeatedly and clearly taught that the focus of a funeral should be on teaching the gospel (as we would in a Sunday School class or other such meeting), not the person being mourned. I am deeply concerned that the family of our friend is on the high road to apostasy and ran roughshod over our poor bishop. What is worse, a wonderful missionary opportunity was lost because so many non-members were in attendance. Such blatant disregard for the proper order of things is quite upsetting. I have mentioned all this to many church leaders (through the proper channels of course) and numerous people in my ward and stake. However, I don’t feel that I am getting through to them. I can’t bear to attend another funeral like the one I described, but it would be improper to fail in my duty to attend such events in my capacity as the 2nd Counselor in my ward’s Relief Society Presidency with responsibility over Compassionate Service. What should I do?
Bothered in Bountiful
Firstly, I commend you for living in such a wonderful city, which has such an appropriate name. If memory serves, I have been to the building to which you refer in your letter. It is a lovely building, although the painting in the foyer of Ammon protecting King Lamoni’s sheep would do better to portray him with a shirt.
As to your quite legitimate concern about the conduct of funerals in the Church, I thoroughly agree with your assessment. President Packer has been quite clear on the subject, as have those of us in positions of influence in the Church who whole-heartedly obey his ever-wise and inspired counsel. As we know, there is a certain order of things to which we must all adhere. When giving a talk at a funeral the highest form of praise for a dearly departed faithful Latter-day Saint is to teach the plan of salvation exactly as we have heard it many times before and make personal references to the deceased only in the context of teaching principles of the gospel. One exception might be made for a prominent Church leader so that one giving a talk might expound on the leader’s record of service and notable acts among the Saints. However, this should only be done by one with proper authority who has been duly called as was Aaron. (Not my cousin Aaron Sorenson, mind you. Although I do hear from reliable sources that he may be called as an Area Authority Seventy soon, in which case, he would have authority in his sphere of responsibility to take such action.)
In any event, I would encourage you to find every possible appropriate opportunity to remind those in your ward and stake of the counsel of the brethren. You mentioned you are the Relief Society counselor over Compassionate Service. (What a lovely calling, by the way). One opportunity to provide cues to the wayward might be when you are visiting the home of a family whose relative has recently passed. A hand-written card (in legible but not too ornate cursive) that includes President Packer’s counsel attached to the foil covering a casserole dish would be a discreet way to present the desired gentle but firm instruction. Tactfully-placed printed reminders at the pulpit might also aid in your efforts. All the best to you as you build your part of Zion.