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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Op Ed - Ask Pastor Paul: Can I Offer Words From My Pagan Tradition at My Christian Mother's Memorial Service?
Dear Pastor Paul,
My mother died recently and we held a memorial service for her in a Christian church. I am an adherent of Asatru, which is characterized by some as "Germanic neo-paganism."
I would have liked to say a few words from my faith at the ceremony, but I felt that since the overwhelming majority of attendees would be conservative Christians, there would be hostility to hearing such a message. In the end I felt that the confusion and anger generated would be counter to the spirit of the gathering, so I opted not to speak. I performed my own ceremony later that evening at my mother's gravesite.
However, she was MY mother so I feel I would have been within my rights to say something. I imagine this type of thing comes up frequently with other pagan faiths, like Wicca. What is the purpose of the funeral -- to respect the harmony of the majority or to allow each individual to grieve in the manner that best fits them?
Your question reveals a fine sensitivity. You say memorial service rather than funeral, which is an important distinction. A funeral service is often a sacred rite within a specific tradition that has strict guidelines and probably will not have room for additions from an outside faith. Memorial services, on the other hand, can be more flexible in their effort to honor the life of the one who died, as well as console the living.
As her son, it would have been appropriate for you to honor her in the memorial service with a reading or blessing from your own tradition, especially if the blessing or prayer you offered was worded in such a way as to benefit the entire gathering.
This is not just a question of pagan beliefs. More than one tradition is often represented at major life events, such as a weddings or memorial services. The important rule is to have the different readings and rituals compliment one another rather than compete; and participants should never use these settings to teach or preach their beliefs. This requires a deft approach by the person planning the service and willingness on all parts to accept the spiritual diversity of those present.
In the end, the approach you took was admirable. You put the feelings of others before your own and demonstrated that your mother raised a fine son.