Q&A — May I Speak at a Non-Lutheran Funeral?

A concerned reader sent this question:

I am a Lutheran and understand that eulogies are not given in traditional Lutheran funeral services. But what should I say if I am asked to speak at the funeral of a family member who is not a Lutheran?


Thank you for your question. You are correct when you understand that eulogies are not given in a Lutheran rite of Christian Burial. Lutheran Service Book: Agenda mentions at least twice in the Christian Burial section:

A eulogy is not in the best Christian tradition. An obituary may be read which focuses on the Gospel promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ our Lord, and not on the good deeds of the deceased.

Your question raises a point that I have had to deal with both as a layman and as a pastor. My uncle died a number of years ago. I was asked to be the “master of ceremonies” at his funeral service. The service was held in a funeral home and was more of a secular gathering (a “wake” as we would say in Chicagoland and its environs) rather than a rite of Christian Burial. I was a seminary student at the time and recall speaking with classmates and a professor about my options. I took a moment toward the end of the “wake” and spoke of the comfort of the Resurrection from a Christian perspective. I was careful to say that my words were from a Christian perspective and were for the general comfort of those in the room who believed that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior.

As a pastor I have been asked by the family of the deceased to allow family members time to speak a word of thanks or some general remarks to the congregation. My practice is to encourage the family to reserve those remarks for the visitation (“wake”) or perhaps a funeral dinner after the rite of Christian Burial and Committal (if a Committal follows). If this is not possible, or if the family requests that the remarks happen during the rite, I encourage those remarks after the Benediction. Never have I had an individual take the opportunity to undo the comfort of the Resurrection with their remarks. Perhaps other pastors have had that happen. If so, those pastors have had to change their practice.

My suggestion to you would be to ask if you could save your remarks for the visitation (“wake”) or for another time. Another suggestion would be to speak about the comfort you have as a Christian concerning the Resurrection. If the deceased was a Christian, you may have the opportunity to speak about how Christ worked in your loved one’s life (baptism, the Lord’s Supper, hearing Christ-centered preaching). If the deceased gave no evidence of being a Christian, then you are in a difficult situation. My suggestion would be to do as I did years ago and speak of the comfort you have as a Christian under the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Speak about how the Resurrection gives you comfort. Speak nothing about the deceased, for you have nothing to say about him.

These situations are  difficult for the pastor and for the family of the deceased. Speaking with clarity without giving a false hope is what is needed. We pastors have to deal with situations like these quite often. I pray God’s blessings for you as you discern what is best for your situation.

– Rev. David M. Juhl+

About Pastor David Juhl

The Reverend David Michael Juhl was born June 1, 1972 in Du Quoin, IL. He was born from above by water and the Holy Spirit on June 18, 1972 at Bethel Lutheran Church, Du Quoin, IL. He was confirmed on March 23, 1986 at Bethel congregation. He attended Du Quoin public schools, graduating from Du Quoin High School in 1990. He attended John A. Logan Junior College, Carterville, IL, and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, graduating with the Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Television in 1994. Before attending seminary, Pastor Juhl was a radio disc jockey, working for WDQN Radio in Du Quoin, IL and volunteering at WSIU/WUSI/WVSI Radio in Carbondale, IL while a student at SIU. Pastor Juhl is a 2002 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. He served his vicarage at Faith Lutheran Church, Tullahoma, TN. His first charge after graduation was Trinity Lutheran Church, Iuka, IL, where he was ordained and installed on July 7, 2002. He served Trinity until March 4, 2007, when he accepted the Divine Call to serve Our Savior Lutheran Church, Momence, IL. Pastor Juhl is married to the former Rebecca Warmuth since October 3, 2003. They have one daughter, Catherine, born September 3, 2004, and two sons, Matthew, born October 11, 2008, and Christopher, born August 12, 2010.


Q&A — May I Speak at a Non-Lutheran Funeral? — 12 Comments

  1. Well, eulogies may not be “in the best tradition,” but a recent, and very disturbing trend is for the presiding pastor to ask, “Does anyone want to share a few words about the dear departed?” That opens the floodgates, and everyone wants to preach. At one funeral we attended, the “sharings” caused a few people to leave. Pu-leeeze, already!

  2. @Win #2
    …a recent, and very disturbing trend is for the presiding pastor to ask, “Does anyone want to share a few words about the dear departed?”

    Another case of aping non-Lutherans; the presiding pastor is out of line. I’ve survived a few of these at non Lutheran (sometimes questionably Christian) funerals.
    In a Lutheran setting, I’d leave, too.

  3. I will only speak of practice that I have come to do…I will let people speak, but I give them the time up front, before the invocation. Of course, I want them to do this at the visitation, the wake, talk all you want at the lunch to follow, but when it is pastor time; it is my time. No, it is really God’s time in the Funeral Rite. And yes, we may have to refute some of their eulogy talk, but we do it in love, but being firm.

    In fact, some of the best teaching is when a bad example arises. Of course, they may not like what they hear from us, but oh well, the Truth is the Truth.

  4. “If the deceased gave no evidence of being a Christian, then you are in a difficult situation. My suggestion would be to do as I did years ago and speak of the comfort you have as a Christian under the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Speak about how the Resurrection gives you comfort. Speak nothing about the deceased, for you have nothing to say about him.”

    I have presided at the funeral of lonely old people with no pastor (strangers to me), when invited by the funeral director. (I accept no fee for this service, but do it for the sake of the congregation who will hear of their hope in Christ.) I have nothing to say about the deceased, when I know nothing about them, except that God so loved them, too, that he sent his only Son, who died for the sins of the whole world. To avoid giving the impression that everyone goes to heaven, I am careful to be very clear in preaching to the congregation that now is the time to trust in the only Savior.

  5. @Pastor Ted Crandall #6
    Yes, in this case, what is done is done. We preach to the living. A funeral for a member destined for heaven is a joy, a funeral for one we don’t know about, yes, not easy. We can only rescue the living with the Gospel.

  6. This happened to me personally 7 years ago, when my sister-in-law (age 41) passed away (from a multitude of physical ailments and morbid obesity). The funeral was done in my in-law’s church (UCC). Sister-in-law, a few days before she died, asked if I could speak at her funeral. I made it clear that I couldn’t do anything during the funeral, in honor of my ordination vows, but I could speak following the benediction. She was OK with that.

    The funeral came. The presiding minister was elderly; this was his last official act at that church. His funeral sermon was horrible; he preached (seriously!) about himself and his life – virtually nothing about the deceased or the hope of the Resurrection. Following the Benediction, the pastor nodded to me, and I stepped up to the lectern and gave a 10-minute homily, talking about my deceased sister-in-law and the faith she displayed even and especially in suffering, and moving quickly towards the work of Christ that give us the hope that we have in the Resurrection of the dead and eternal life with Jesus in heaven. To this day, my mother-in-law thanks me for the wonderful Gospel that I proclaimed to my in-laws and family friends assembled in that stone church. Many family and friends also thanked me that day for the comfort of the resurrection they heard, which they did not hear from the officiating minister.

  7. When I get requests for eulogies it is most often because they have been to funerals where it is as if the person who died never existed. I was at one LCMS funeral in which the Pastor never once mentioned the name of the deceased. While those outside the Church might be different, I have seldom encountered a family who desired a eulogy to whitewash the life of the dead or to promote good works as a path to salvation. When I have encountered are sincere folks who want the deceased to be known. If a family wants to speak, I go over it with them first and they speak before the funeral itself (before the invocation). Once the invocation is spoken, the service falls to me (and any other assisting clergy as may be available in the parish or perhaps from the family — if the person is in fellowship with us). But what I do is close the sermon with a brief obituary with the standard stuff PLUS the date and place of baptism and confirmation. In this way the obituary recognizes that a Christian funeral is the expected outcome to what baptism begins and confirmation affirms.

  8. I’m just realizing that I’ve never been to a Lutheran funeral service. Having been raised Southern Baptist, I’ve only attended Baptist and Evangelical funerals, so I’ve only ever heard eulogies at funerals. My SB grandmother passed away almost 5 years ago, and the granddaughters were asked to speak. It never occured to me that I shouldn’t. I did speak about her life, but my main focus was on her faith in Christ. During his remarks, my father mentioned that her dying wish was that all of her children, grandchildren, and great-children would come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone who talked about my grandmother that day mentioned the hope that she had in Christ. I certainly felt that the Gospel was shared to my cousins who are not believers and would not normally darken the door of a church. Is giving a eulogy at a Christian funeral really a “no-no” for Lutherans?

  9. Usually the Pastor makes the point in the sermon about faith in Christ and salvation through Him.
    I think you and your cousins did well to speak of faith in Christ, (especially if you managed to convey that faith is a gift of God).

    Many eulogies wander all over the map, talking about the deceased’s hobbies and avocations and nothing about their faith or about Christ. That is why Lutherans tend to say, “Save that for the coffee and reunion after the funeral.”

    @Momof3inTenn #10

  10. I recently faced a different, but related difficulty. A dear friend (LCMS convert, but not catechized well) is marrying a non-Lutheran, and they talked about having a joint service with their respective pastors , AND they were going to request communion (just the bride and groom). They were unable to hold their wedding at the local LCMS church buildings, and I believe neither pastor would serve communion, thankfully. But I faced the reality of declining standing up at her wedding, even though she is a dear friend of 15+ years and she was my maid of honor. If pastors would just do what they are supposed to, it would be a lot easier for all of us simple lay-people.

    Pastors, it is decidedly unloving to pretend to be “inclusive,” excluding those very people who ARE (supposedly) in communion with you. It puts us in awkward, potentially hurtful situations.

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