By Horst Obermeit
One of the certainties of our lives on earth is death. Each of us face that certainty at some time. With death comes the need for a funeral of some kind. About 16 years ago while we were still members of WCG my sister Linda died of cancer when she was only 19 and it fell on me to make her funeral arrangements.
This article is one manís story about dealing with funeral arrangements in the fragmented Church of God groups.
The writer was a member of the Worldwide Church of God from the early 1960s until 1995. He is an alumnus of Ambassador College who worked in the printing departments on the California and Texas campuses. He continues to observe the Sabbath and feast days and worships with a Church of God, Seventh Day group in Farmville, NC.
Horst Obermeit and his wife, the former Sue Lashua, have lived in North Carolina for 18 years.
It was a most difficult task. The support of all those who came to the funeral made quite an impression on me and was comforting and encouraging. Since my sister had lived in Kansas and only came to North Carolina to stay with us during the last six weeks of her illness and life, most of those who came to the funeral did not know her personally but came to comfort and support my family and me. It made me realize how important and meaningful it is for friends and acquaintances to simply be there for the family during such a time of mourning and loss even if we didnít always know what to say or do. The realization that our presence at a funeral or visitation is helpful and comforting encouraged me to make a greater personal effort to attend funerals not just of close friends as I had done before but also of coworkers and other acquaintances and to be there for them when they were mourning.
At that time one part was rather simple, that was how the funeral itself would be conducted. Our church and minister took care of that for us. Since we and many others left WCG and have become members of various splits or gone in different directions in our views of what is the church, it has become a bit more difficult to know what to do. As I have attended various funerals over the last few years since leaving WCG I have witnessed a variety of approaches in how to deal with this intensely sorrowful and difficult time. Although my basic doctrinal views on such matters as the Sabbath, holy days and the resurrection are still similar to what is taught in many of the splits, I am not a member of any of the splits and donít know of any ministers locally who know me or my family personally who impress me as the kind of servant that would respect my desires for a funeral service and conduct it as I would prefer. As I have pondered what to do about funeral arrangements if the need was there, I have not come up with a totally satisfactory answer.
When my father-in-law died about 12 years ago, his widow wanted a simple private ceremony in her home since she was no longer a member of WCG at that time and did not belong to any other church. Since her son and daughter were still members of WCG she agreed to have a small and private service for her immediate family only conducted by the local WCG pastor.
Since my parents were in their mid-seventies and my mother-in-law was 87 years old, we were aware that we faced the strong possibility of a funeral in the near future. When my mother died January 24, 2001 we suddenly faced that reality sooner than we had hoped. We were faced with helping my dad with the funeral arrangements as well as sorting out how we wanted to say goodbye to my mother.
So I thought it might be helpful for me to write a few words about how we did that and what we did for my momís funeral. This is a personal account and is meant only to give one example of how it can be done and to help others deal with this difficult task. (I will relate some personal information in order to help others, but I would appreciate it if the reader would handle this matter with the respect it deserves.)
Our family consisting of Gary and Hilde Obermeit and their sons (and families), are quite scattered in where they live. I have a brother Tony who lives in Australia, a brother Eric (Zeke) who lives in California, I live in North Carolina, and my dad Gary (Gerhard) and two of my brothers Klaus and Hans live in Florida. At one time we all belonged to WCG. Now we are as scattered church wise as we are geographically. My parents have been members of the Philadelphia Church of God for several years. Since Klaus lives near my dad, it fell on his shoulders to make most of the funeral arrangements for Momís funeral. I tried to give him input via phone based on what I had previously learned. Dad wanted him to handle all of that for him, but he realized that he needed to provide what my dad wanted. Iíll skip over the details on that to concentrate on the funeral itself.
Since I had been to a funeral performed by a minister of the Philadelphia Church of God for one of its members in our area less than a year before and I had personally found it to be totally unacceptable as far as what was said, how long the funeral sermon went, and how the funeral was conducted, (more on that later) I knew that I wanted to have some input about this ceremony for my mother. I very much respect my dadís desire to have his church and minister conduct the funeral and so my brother and I were faced with trying to say some encouraging and uplifting things during the funeral. I had been to some funerals where members of the family gave a short eulogy or a few words of goodbye. I wanted to do that at my momís funeral and so did my brother Klaus. We knew it would be a difficult task, but we felt that we wanted to personalize this somber occasion and say some words that would not be offensive.
My Dad wanted a short service and agreed that Klaus and I could speak briefly and that we could have someone sing three songs. He chose two from the WCG hymnal and I suggested my favorite from that hymnal, ďHow Great Thou ArtĒ. We would have a song to start, then Klaus was to speak briefly, then a song, then I would say a few words, then another song, and then after we were done the rest of the service would be turned over to Dadís minister for the sermon and closing prayer. Since we never got a call or any opportunity to talk to the minister who would be speaking, we were not sure if his message would be like what I had heard previously in a service for one of their members. I decided to place a positive emphasis on certain things in what I said and to include some personal stories about my family that would allow me to distance myself from anything offensive said by the minister.
Klaus said some words of thanks for the comfort and help we were given during this difficult time. He let us know that Mom enjoyed life and especially loved her family and her church. He also said some things about it being a time to mourn but also a time to remember the good times we had with Mom and the laughter we shared with her. Since my brother Tony could not come from Australia, he wanted a few personal words from him read at the funeral. Klaus ended his words by reading Tonyís message of goodbye to Mom.
After a song I got up to read what I had written. I had decided beforehand that the only way I could do it was to type out what I wanted to say and then to read it verbatim. Trying to speak from a few notes would have been too difficult for me. Reading it allowed me to stop several times when I was overcome with emotion and then go on when I was a bit more gathered. Here are the words I read to those who were there. I will make some further comments afterward.
Itís good to see so many familiar faces. Iíve known some of you for over 20 years. Thank you for coming during this difficult time in our lives. Iím Horst, the oldest of 5 sons and one daughter of Hilde and Gary Obermeit. My wife Sue and our three children live in North Carolina where weíve lived for 18 years since moving from this area. Eric is here from Pasadena, Klaus is the third son. Tony lives in Australia, and Hans lives here. Our sister Linda died nearly 16 years ago. If youíre wondering why Iím wearing a red jacket at a funeral, itís because red is my favorite color and I wanted to honor Mom today. Since this a difficult day for me and standing up here is especially difficult, I thought wearing my favorite color might help me a little bit. Actually I know that I can get through this because the Bible tells me that I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me. I hope what I wear or what I say wonít offend anyone. If it does, please forgive me because that is not my intention. This is not a day to offend people. As we mourn, it is a day to comfort and encourage. I hope that you can take comfort in knowing what a wonderful mother my mom was to me. We have already shed tears but we have also laughed about the good times we had as a family with my mom.
All of you are here because you knew my mom or one of her sons. I appreciate your coming to support us during this time of sorrow. I especially want to thank several who have been extra helpful already. One is my sister-in-law Eva. She has been especially helpful in making her home available to us. Helen and Gerry Walworth have also been extremely kind and helpful to Sue and me and to our dad. Thank you to all. My main reason for talking to you today was to tell you a little about my mom and what a wonderful person she was to me and to our family. Most of you know how short she was. She received a good bit of kidding over that but she had a wonderful sense of humor that helped her point out that ďgood things come in small packagesĒ. She was a giant in my life in the love she showed to her children and to her husband, my dad. She was a great mom to all of our family. My wife thought of her as her second mom.
She was born in a part of Germany called Silesia that is now part of Poland. She had to flee with her parents as refugees during World War II. She married my dad shortly after the war in 1947. When I was born, she was told not to have any more children because of her health. She not only had more children, but she used her good sense of humor and that special twinkle in her eyes as she used to tell people that the doctor didnít tell her how to not have more children.
In 1958 she and my dad Gary came to America with their 3 sons to start a new life. Two weeks later she gave birth to her fourth son. She delighted in telling people that Tony was born in America but that he was ďmade in GermanyĒ. Later, after 5 boys she gave birth to our sister Linda. When the doctor told her it was a girl she told him, ďyouíll have to show me before I believe thatĒ.
She found some things she didnít like when she came to America. When we were at the train station in New York she couldnít speak any English yet, but she saw a vending machine that dispensed beer and thought that surely this was the promised land. At least thatís all she could read and understand. When she took a taste of the ďroot beerĒ that she had bought, she was slightly disillusioned with this great land.
Mom was the communicator in our family. Since Dad had to work extra jobs when we came to America as immigrants, Mom was the one who not only had to learn English, but she was the one who worked with us to do it. I remember going over and over conjugating English verbs trying to learn to speak a new language. Mom had a strong German accent, but the fact that most people donít hear any accent when I speak is credit to her efforts to teach us this new language.
Since she raised 5 boys before she had the daughter, she also had to be strong and know how to keep us in line. Although we often pushed her to the limit, I always knew when I had gone too far and if she really meant her ominous warning of ďwait until Dad gets homeĒ. With 5 boys and a dad who was a master at teasing, Mom always seemed to know if Dad was teasing or serious. If you know me, youíll know that she also taught us that we had to fight fire with fire. So we became teasers just like my dad.
The other strength Mom had was her faith in God. She has been faithfully serving him over many years. So I know that I can say with confidence that when that last trump blows and all in Christ shall be made alive, that I will see my mom rising into the air to meet Christ as he returns to earth. I hope to rise and meet her there at Jesusí feet. The church Mom & Dad have been members of for some time has a beautiful symbol. It is a trumpet. To me that represents the last trump that will blow at Christís return. Then I will see her alive again. The last time I saw her was last year in August in what was a special family reunion when my brother Tony came from Australia and brought his new wife, Hilary. We spent a long weekend together with Mom & Dad. There were many special moments. One that stands out is another thing she was famous for in our family and that was her German torte. She baked one in honor of Tonyís new bride.
Dad wanted me to keep this short, so I better quit soon since he wanted a short service. Especially because his minister is going to say a few words to us. Dad told me that Mr. Culpepper will only speak to us for about 15 minutes and speak to us about the hope of the resurrection. I teased my dad and told him that I hope itís not too much longer than that because I canít sit through the long sermons that your ministers are famous for. I told Dad that if he goes too long or Iím too bothered to listen that Iíll just have to get up and leave.
So as we mourn my mother and comfort each other, I hope that we will all know that she loved us greatly, that we love her, and that we look forward to that last trump when we will see her again.
That concludes my remarks at Momís funeral. Then we had a beautiful rendition of ďHow Great Thou ArtĒ sung by Shirley Dietz. After that Mr. Culpepper spoke for about 20 minutes and concluded the service with a prayer. I had thought about including more thoughts about the resurrection and the hope of our eternal salvation, but since Dadís minister was going to speak I decided to keep my part short and let him touch on those scriptures.
Since our experience was with the Philadelphia Church of God and their minister I want to make a few comments about that aspect of the funeral. My only other experience with a funeral conducted by their ministry had been an extremely difficult and offensive experience last year in North Carolina. That minister spoke for nearly an hour and offended most who were not part of PCG by various things he said including calling on us to repent and join their true church and their teachings. He said nothing to comfort the grieving family or friends. Apparently that offensive funeral also had an impact on PCG and how they now conduct funerals. After the funeral for my mom I talked with Mr. Culpepper. He told me that it was now their policy that a regional pastor has to conduct their funerals. After questioning him and relating my negative experience in North Carolina, he told me that the new policy was a direct result of the problems they encountered from that funeral. Later my father also told me the same thing. Mr. Culpepper is from Atlanta and hardly knew my family. My father also received personal condolence calls from first, Mrs. Flurry and later from Gerald Flurry (the head of the PCG) as well as a fruit basket from the Flurrys. While I very much appreciated those calls for the encouragement they gave my father, I also realized that it was after I had talked to Mr. Culpepper and after I related my deep concern about that offensive funeral last year.
Several of the brethren of Dadís church were very helpful and kind to us during this time. Gerry and Helen Walworth went out of their way to help us including allowing us to stay in their home and then having a dinner for the immediate family after the funeral. Other members contributed food for this meal and at other times during that long weekend for us. The efforts of the members of the Philadelphia Church of God were greatly appreciated. The local ministry in their church made no effort to offer condolences or even to contact those of us in the family who were not members of their church.
The funeral message delivered by Mr. Culpepper was certainly not offensive. It was a great improvement over the other PCG funeral I mentioned earlier. However, I would consider what he gave as the type of message that does nothing for the family and is instead intended as a witness of the teachings of their church. Although he started out by saying that he was there to comfort the family he said nothing to do so. His first remarks were rather ironic in that he said that if my mom could tell us about her beliefs that she would say the following things. I found this ironic because she would never be allowed to tell her beliefs in any kind of church setting with his church, and even at this funeral a local minister who at least knew my mother personally would not even be allowed to speak by PCG since they are trying to avoid another fiasco at a funeral. He followed that up with a quick recitation of numerous scriptures touching on the resurrection. I suspect that his haste through those scriptures was because Dad had asked for a short message. In my message I also had made some remarks about leaving if he spoke too long. He then read a letter my mom had written a friend about distributing the Trumpet magazine and he used that as a means to say a few things about the Philadelphia Church of God. In all of that there was no attempt to encourage or console the family.
To me, a funeral should be a time to say goodbye to someone you love. It should be a time to remember and share some of the good memories of that person to help you make it through the pain of the loss. It should be a time to remember the awesome promise of the resurrection and the hope that we have in seeing that loved one again when Jesus Christ our Lord and savior returns and we are all raised to meet him in the air. But it should be personalized in a way that makes it part of the beginning of the healing experience thatís needed rather than seeming like an advertisement for a particular church. If you must arrange a funeral for a family member you should consider the type of message you want given at that service. The family can greatly influence what is said even if the minister is with a church that differs with your current beliefs.
I hope that my comments here will be helpful to others who face this difficult task. I tried to be careful not to offend anyone during my comments at the funeral and I tried to also be careful in what I said here not to be offensive. I realize that some may consider my sharing these thoughts as offensive, and I am sorry they feel that way. It is certainly not my intention to offend anyone but rather to help others faced with difficult decisions at a time when a little comfort and encouragement can mean so much. I offer my assistance to anyone who would like some help with arrangements they must personally make. If you want to contact me for such help, you may reach me at the following address.
ó Horst Obermeit
2318 Memorial Church Road, Kenly, NC 27542