Jul 122013 0 Responses

Funny Friday: On Seminary (Part 1)

Some things could only happen in seminary.

Part of my degree program was taking a practicum class which went over the practical details of being a pastor. While every student was required to take the course, it was designed for those who did not have any ministry experience. A seminary graduate would look foolish in their first pastorate if they didn’t know the details of baptizing someone or doing a wedding.

So, in this class we did just that. We married each other, baptized one another, and performed the funeral ceremonies for our fellow classmates.

Having done all of those services before, the class was a bit boring. Yet it was an easy A and on occasion it was outright hilarious.

In each service, we would add lib details about the person we were baptizing, marrying or burying.

We might tell the salvation story of the person we were baptizing by talking about their addiction issues which they struggled with before coming to Christ. “I never knew a person could be addicted to Fruit-loops, but we all learn something every day. Thankfully you have traded the Fruit Loops for the Fruit of the Spirit and so I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” we would say.

The goal, by adding in these made-up details, was to be able to keep a straight face while making our classmates lose it.

It was the goal, because the year began with a stern warning from the proffer about the importance of keeping our composure.

“I know this is weird,” he said. “But, this is important and for this to be a meaningful experience, we must be serious.”

After a semester of repeating wedding vows to one another (possibly Alabama’s first same-sex weddings), baptizing one another (often times with significantly more force than necessary while holding each other under water for much longer than necessary), it came time to bury one another.

Before the last section of the class began, our professor reiterated his opening words to the class. If ever there was a time to be serious, it was now. Weddings could be light-hearted, baptisms are joyful, but as we studied funerals we would have to be on our best behavior.

With those words, he called me to the pulpit and I began to perform the funeral services for my best friend and fellow classmate Jay Watson.

Jay had been my friend since seminary orientation when we found a deep bond over the awkwardness “meet and greets” and the importance of holding a beverage when conversing with someone you don’t know. Small chit-chat, strange silence, take a drink. Without the coke in your hand no relationships would ever form because the uncomfortable silence would be too much. Yet taking a drink allows relationships to grow.

Three years later, Jay and I had taken every class together save one.  Apparently he didn’t care about the Book of Romans with the same intensity I did. I made the schedules; Jay made the friends. Without me, he wouldn’t have graduated. Without him, I would have never left my apartment and interacted with another person.

I began my funeral the way I have begun every funeral since, with a solemn recognition of the unique grief of the family. By calling each person by name and listing their relationship with the deceased, it evokes empathy within the congregation and prevents denial from the family.

“To David and Kathy in the loss of your son,” I said.

“To Rachel in the loss of your brother.”

“To Shantel, in the loss of your husband. We are gathered to recognize your grief (I hear a snicker). To mingle our sorrow with yours (I hear a muffled giggle). And to show you that while this grief is uniquely your own, you are not alone (by now the offender is covering his face and shaking as he tries not to totally lose it).”

“Jay and Shantel were Jenny and I’s closest friends.” With the second mention of her name, my professor loses it. Laughing hysterically and unable to catch his breath, the class just looked at him unable to understand what he found so funny.

Finally he settled down and as he wiped tears away he said, “Shantel? How in the world did you come up with that name for Jay’s wife?” While still laughing and trying to catch his breath, he continued, “I expected you to say ‘April’ or ‘Susan’ or something, but Shantel? In all my years, I’ve never had a student get me, but that’s funny. Shantel…”

Without losing funeral composure, I looked the professor in the eye and solemnly answered, “I got that name from Jay’s wife. Her actual name is Shantel.”

As the professor began to apologize profusely for mocking the name of Jay’s wife, the class ended. I never fully got to bury my friend Jay, but the professor did a good job of burying himself that day.

Thankfully Shantel was very forgiving.

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