by Pastor Michael Salemink
Sanctity of life means precious at the very beginning of each human life. And it also means precious all the way to the very end of every one.
We considered it together in November at a congregation in Illinois. The Life Team hosted an “Issues as We Age” workshop to encourage exploration of end-of-life opportunities and preparations. I’ve had the privilege of involvement in a few similar events over the last handful of years, and I hope they continue to become more common.
The Saturday morning gathering welcomed participants from both church and community. After a stop at the registration table to receive helpful information (and enter names to win the Thanksgiving-themed table centerpieces as attendance door prizes), volunteers served the guests breakfast sweets and coffee (perfectly timed to coincide with the season’s first snowfall!). Pastor followed the brief time of fellowship with an opening prayer.
A local funeral director associated with the parish offered the first presentation. For fifteen minutes he overviewed what Christians might want to know as they contemplate advance arrangements for their own burial services. His handout, “15 Things a Funeral Director Won’t Tell You,” included the surprising suggestions, “Never pay in advance,” “Consider renting a casket,” “Embalming is optional,” and “Bring someone with you to make final arrangements.”
Then, for about 45 minutes, we heard from a representative of the LCMS Foundation. This synodical organization provides estate planning and gift counseling assistance at no cost to congregations and their members. He stressed the importance of drafting a will no matter your age, financial situation, or family configuration. He also surveyed the best ways to minimize how much of an inheritance gets subjected to taxes and how to maximize both bequests to loved ones and charitable legacies.
Pastor next shared fifteen minutes of thoughts on funeral worship practices. This particular church provides a standardized 30-page booklet of “Funeral Guidelines” for its members. It includes the purpose of Christian funerals, outlines of the standard service orders, hymn options, what care to expect from pastor and people, reflections on grieving, and a form for recording relevant information. A question about cremation stimulated spirited dialogue. Pastor encouraged making known funeral and burial preferences to loved ones.
We enjoyed a brief break to stretch legs and refresh plates and reconvened for my presentation. I covered the substance of our resource entitled, “Going Gracefully: How the Christian Gospel Invites Us to Share in Suffering Instead of Settling for Assisted Suicide.” We examined the definitions and risks involved in physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. And we identified the blessings of community, purpose, sanctity, and faith that demonstrate dignity in dying so that we may leave decisions about its timing and manner in our Savior’s capable and caring hands.
A Life Team member with decades of experience in the medical profession concluded the seminar with an explanation of advance directives. She supplied documents for attendees to complete that would meet legal requirements in the state. She especially advocated for designating a durable power of attorney for health care and for engaging in the difficult conversations with loved ones sooner rather than later.
Our LFL national staff would love to advise or assist you and your congregation in replicating an event like this. It makes an amazing occasion for raising awareness within the church, connecting with those outside, and proclaiming the sanctity of life. Thank you for making these mind-broadening and life-affirming undertakings possible, and God bless your Gospel-motivated voice For Life!