This brief extract from a longer article in process, combines reflections from a practical theologian/minister and a consultant clinical psychologist on Funerals in the time of COVID

Most denominational service books contain a funeral order for use ‘in distressing circumstances’. Because these vary so widely, they cannot address all scenarios. Positively, they act as a reminder that funerals in the past have also needed to be customised to pastoral circumstances. The current pandemic has forced painful restrictions on practices of accompanying the dying in their last hours and on accompanying the bodies of our dead to a final committal. The insult of distance has been added to the injury of death. Here are some brief theological and liturgical thoughts about how we try to respond:

  1. We still value all we can do under current restrictions, because the ritual work of funerals still really matters.

  2. Along with our limited offer now, we offer an additional future service, if and when the family wish it.

  3. We recognise that having to endure a small, distanced funeral, is for most people a very real loss and we name that and acknowledge it with families.

  4. We understand that a pandemic may raise questions about God’s love and sovereignty (for ministers and mourners) and handle those sensitively; acknowledging how hard they are, how little we understand…

  5. We justify the restrictions ethically on the basis of love for our neighbours. We represent them as an additional way of honouring the life of the one who has died by keeping ourselves and others safe.

  6. We unapologetically make appropriate use of technology, subject to family wishes and approval, to allow distanced mourners to access the funeral as it happens or later, via a recording.

  7. We affirm our belief that God is everywhere present on earth, so too the risen Jesus, so too the Holy Spirit who unites us to God and to one another across any and every distance.

Doug Gay is Principal of Trinity College and a Lecturer in Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow.