Religion is an important source of strength for many of our members, so we’re asking clergy from different religious traditions to share how their members mark the end of a life. Reverend Beverly Molander is affiliated with The Church of Religious Science and is the co-author of Heartfelt Memorial Services: Your Guide for Planning Meaningful Funerals, Celebrations of Life, and Times of Remembrance.
What does The Church of Religious Science teach happens to people when their lives end?
The physical part of life on earth ends, however our spirit/soul continues on its journey. Life cannot be destroyed; however the form it takes can change. We don’t talk about the ‘afterlife” because life continues after physical death. Whether we see it or not, it still exists. On the physical, worldly side, we also say that the spirit of a loved one lives on in the hearts and minds of those who were touched by that person — the impact of the person can be felt for generations to come.
How do you, as a Reverend, comfort the dying?
Compassion is the key. The most important gesture we can give is to honor the dying person by providing what is needed and required at the moment. With some, it is being a silent presence. For others (and with their request or approval), prayer is appropriate. Sometimes, readjusting the light blanket and smoothing it out is a loving gesture that would be appreciated. If the person wants to chat and reminisce, sip some refreshing water, or have privacy with family members, all is fine.
Since we believe that we are all One, we understand that, while it may be comforting to have the minister or practitioner present in the same room, the clergy does not have to be present for support to be felt. We say affirmative prayers, or spiritual mind treatments, for anyone at any time and under any circumstance. We believe that we are never separated from one another and therefore the impact of what we think, say, and do for one another can be felt at any time. It can even help transform the experience of the one who is dying – and help to bring calm, acceptance, or healing. Our clergy don’t claim magic or mystical powers for healing; we do feel that we all have the ability go back to the basics, for health, healing, peace and love. We also believe that each of us is on our own journey. We respect the wants and desires of the person who is dying. We do not give advice or judgment. We simply offer comfort in whatever way the person who is dying wants it. All is well.
How do members of your faith community traditionally respond to the death of one of their members?
We cry, we mourn, we share, we remember, and then we usually celebrate the life of the one who has passed on rather than stay stuck on somber feelings of regret and loss.
Is there a service to memorialize the dead?
Most services are called Celebrations of Life. There are pictures, favorite music, videos, and other memorabilia on display so that everyone attending can learn about the person. Oftentimes people from various phases of the person’s life are invited to share their remembrances. While sad, it is also a time when we can remember the most heartfelt parts of what that person brought to our lives. There is not much emphasis on a casket or cremation urn; rather it is about the spirit of the person that lives on.
What rituals of mourning are there in your faith?
There is no pre-determined ritual for Centers for Spiritual Living. We are a diverse and accepting community, therefore just about anything is acceptable. Although some choose to use candles or incense during the service these are not necessary – they may simply bring comfort to those in attendance. Sometimes there are informal gatherings or even parties held to honor the person who has died or spread the ashes. While we choose to look at the situation from a positive attitude of gratitude for the person, there is no shame in feeling sad or bad. The sweet and sour of life go together.
Is there a particular amount of time allocated for grieving?
There is no time limit to grieving; and neither is there an expectation that the loss of someone dear has to ruin the lives of those who remain. We believe that honest expression of feelings is better than repression. Grieving is unique and individual.
What text or passage would you suggest to a member of your faith community who is grieving?
Per Ernest Holmes in The Science of Mind textbook, “The Spirit is both birthless and deathless. The Principle of Life cannot know death. The experience of dying is but the laying off of an old garment, and the donning of a new one. “There are bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial; there is a material body and a spiritual body.” We are all of this.
What words would you share to comfort members of our community who may be mourning?
In our book, Heartfelt Memorial Services, there is a large section on “What to Say and What Not to Say” to someone who is grieving. Loss can be profound and it is always individual. We cannot presume to “know’ what the other person is going through. My main goal is to listen to the person grieving and to allow the time needed for that person to talk or cry or laugh. Oftentimes, taking the time to remember and talk about the loved one is the most soothing balm we can offer.
Is there a tradition from your faith that might be comforting for people of other faiths?
We have no vested interest in what people of other faiths believe about salvation or afterlife. Our own thoughts on these topics would take a back seat as we support others in going through their own rituals and feelings of loss.
Beverly Molander, MEd, RScM found close-knit, loving groups in church affiliations that began with Baptist churches in Eau Gallie and Tallahassee. After a sabbatical from any church during her twenties, Beverly found a close church community with the Unitarian Universalist community and, in the mid-eighties, she found a new spiritual home at the Atlanta Church of Religious Science (now Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta). In 1992, Beverly found herself to be a single mom rearing her son, Nigel, from the time he was two years-old. Beverly worked in radio or TV during the day and was with Nigel at night, and studied for her ministerial license in the time she had. Now an ordained minister, Beverly hosts a weekly radio show, Affirmative Prayer; Activating the Power of Yes, on Unity Online Radio.