My youngest brother Steven Clay Kellam died on Sunday. A week earlier, when we knew that his long illness was moving toward the end, one of his sons asked if I would be willing to speak at Steve’s memorial service. I wasn’t sure if that was an invitation to lead the whole service, or to “say a few words.” Several thoughts occurred in the two or three seconds it took for me to respond.

First, I had no idea at that point where the funeral would take place. A funeral home? If I declined my nephew’s invitation, would the funeral home call some fundamentalist preacher “on their list” to “handle the service” and add some fire and brimstone in the process? I’d better say yes to keep that from happening.  Yet, isn’t this a time when the minister in the family might better be ministered unto, that is, receive the pastoral care and comfort that comes from ancient Word and present Spirit? So, no; I’d best decline so that I can sit with my family and worship the God who put me there as a son, brother, and uncle.

Then again, there is a fragile theological weaving to be knit together that day. Steve was an active church member at one time, but circumstance and illness had no doubt put him on the so-called “inactive roll” of some church. I am a retired pastor. As far as “church” goes, that’s about it for my family. I hesitate to use this public place to discuss the religious beliefs (or unbelief) of the family from which I have come. It is enough to say that no one liturgy from any prayer book will speak to the spiritual needs of my family at this time of celebration of Steve’s life or sorrow for his loss. So…I think I can do this. I think I can communicate from my own faith something of value to those for whom faith is foreign as well as to those who practice in the heart what they do not enact through the Church. Does that make sense?

Then again. Through my decades of ministry I have witnessed many family members try to speak at the funerals of loved ones, moving to the lectern or pulpit with confidence that they “can get through this.”  Then they look up from their notes and see their teary families and beloved friends… and their voices catch, they swallow hard, they break down. “Excuse me; I’m sorry…” And they sob into the microphone, their deep grief unraveling the words of hope and resurrection that the pastor had just preached. What makes me think that I can be the church pro that day as I look beyond the pulpit to my surviving siblings, my Dad, Steve’s sons, and other family members? So, no; I’d better say to my nephew, “Thank you for asking, but…”

Still. I want this to be exactly right, this service of remembrance and thanksgiving. I have always been a control freak when it came to worship being “in spirit and truth,” solidly Reformed, liturgically correct, and offered to God (as opposed to merely charging the worshippers’ “spiritual batteries”). Yes, I know; we control freaks have a way of blocking the movement of the Spirit and the spontaneity of the heart. We would do better to enter worship leadership with far more humility and far less ego. With that confession, I nonetheless decide to finally say, Yes, I’d like to speak at the service, when the time comes.

The time has come. Or will at week’s end. It helps to know now that the church Steve once attended will be the setting for the service, and that the pastor there is open to whatever role I want to have. He’ll be calling today. And I’ll have to decide. Again.

(Some more thoughts on memorial services in my next entry.)