A Marathon Funeral

November 7, 2009

Coretta Scott King’s Funeral Service lasted 6 hours.
 
Elder E. E. Cleveland Funeral Service lasted 4 hours and twenty minutes.
 
On Monday, November 2, 2009, I attended a funeral service which lasted 5 hours which I’m sure you’ve already heard via the grapevine or on facebook.  Well, here is my version of the service:
 
Pastor Reginald O. Robinson may he rest in peace.
 
If he raised his head out of that “gorgeous” casket to speak for one minute, he would have probably said: Brethren, I’m confused, what’s up with all this excessive talking and everybody saying the same thing?  And why wasn’t there snacks to give out in between each hour to my grieving family members?  Are ya’ll trying to kill them by starvation at the Celebration of my life?  Lord Have Mercy on your souls. Patricia, I’ll see you at the Second Coming of Christ which might be before this service is over. Love ya baby.”
 
I went to a restaurant in LA to have breakfast because I knew as so did everyone, that this “Preacher” could not be eulogized in one hour.  So the pancakes and eggs and juice had me in a good space as I greeted folks at the church I haven’t seen in awhile.  When I arrived at the church I glanced at the program and immediately text friends who couldn’t make it and told them that this is going to be at least a four hour service so tune in on churchpond.com.  
 
Let me cut through the chase before I share my thoughts as to why the marathon service.  There were officials from GC, Unions, Conferences, Oakwood, Churches and friends.  The processional alone took about 15 minutes because there were about 100 ministers from all over; then the family members who also got a parting view of Pastor Robinson before taking their seats.  (casket remain closed once the service started).  Those asked to speak (only 15 not counting family members) represented all those entities which was appropriate.  They were asked to give remarks for two minutes.  No one stop at two minutes but many did four to five minutes.  But as the hours went by, the remarks got longer.  I timed one (stopwatch on my cell) which was 12 minutes, as in almost 15 minutes.  Elder Charles Brooks, the eulogist, only spoke 17 minutes whose message seemed like it was only 7 minutes long, it was potent and relevant and ministered to the family and those of us sitting behind them.  So there you have the answer to WHY the service lasted so long.  The ministers gave miniature eulogies and the close friends wanted to share many “special” times they had with Pastor Robinson. Though the remarks were lengthy, they were interesting and truly honored and celebrated the unselfish life of Pastor Robinson.  (There was one exception:  an extended family member read a long tribute which was boring, but I use that time to stretch and meet and greet in the lobby for those who had to leave, but a day later, I heard he read some poem at the end that everyone is talking about that was, lets just say, “ethnic special”).  
 
What the MDiv speakers’ remarks “weren’t”:  which is not uncommon in our SDA funerals:  are words of comfort directly to the grieving family.  Yes it great to acknowledge ones connection with the decease, but at some point in your two minutes, shouldn’t you speak to the survivals?  I was thankful to hear four ministers who must have been grieve before or who is IN CHRIST knowing how to comfort, who really spoke to the family.  Don’t remember who it was, but I’m not counting that minister who thought he would read off the names of the family and stubble on some of the grandchildren’s names.  If you don’t know the peoples’, just say God bless the “FAMILY”.  A friend of mine wrote this morning:  . . .with those again unnecessary redundant typical adventist preacher remarks.  A sign that our clergy are ill prepared to minister to the brokenhearted.  The ministerial sec. of the conference and his department should have a 30-60 day process of healing counseling and therapy for the widow and family in place. This would entail every minister & wife taking a day to sit with the family if they so desire.  I agree and any portion or version of this would be better than nothing.  Pastor T. Marshall Kelly set a good example of this by saying:  the widow shouldn’t have to cook a Sabbath meal for the next two years.  Now that’s love in action and not just “hot air”.

The central theme of most remarks was how Pastor Robinson made a difference in the lives of everyone he came in contact with.  He wasn’t superficial, it was like, he followed through and cared and loved people genuinely.  After hearing all those remarks, I prayed for his church family:  Valley Crossroads– I learned he was there for 12 years/now I was understanding their deep pain that you can see on their faces; he was more than a pastor to them, he was a friend and part of many of their families–well at least that’s how they felt.  It’s an attribute we all want to have but we let the cares of this life and responsibilities, keep us from really touching bases with people.  Though it wasn’t said, he’s the sort of person who ask you “How Are You? and hang around to hear your answer and respond.  footnote:  Valley Crossroads ushers/deacons and food servers were so gracious, I had to take a double look.  They weren’t territorial and mean like I’ve seen many in that role at big gatherings like this.  I wished I got the names of two of them to give them kudos.  This kindness that I saw both at the Viewing/Wake the night before at their church in Pacoima and at the funeral in LA had to be imitated from the example of their now deceased leader. 
 
The theater style seats at White Memorial Church in LA aren’t as comfortable as your deluxe cinema seats of today.  And because this old large church, @ 2500 seating capacity, you couldn’t stretch out your legs.  (though I was able to in the fourth and fifth hour as my row had cleared out).  (sidebar concerning White Memorial Church:  I was highly disappointed that Clarence couldn’t play the organ because (I think) one of the keys appeared stuck and if that wasn’t the reason, I can safely say it was “broken”; and my heart was sadden at the condition of the bathroom by the second hour:  trash barrels were overflowing and paper towels all over the floor–so I will not describe how it looked by the fourth hour:  no deacon or janitor were on hand.  That surprise me for a church that size).

I must commend those who came for the funeral, though it was almost packed at the beginning, there were still over half full at the ending, (which is still a lot of people); a real sign of the heighten level of love for this preacher and his family; and it didn’t hurt that the program was well put together with articulate speakers and excellent music.  Those who stayed till the end were moved (no movement or whispering) during the reading of the grandson’s Ryan’s tribute and the reflections of his daughters Tia and Kelli.  Those remarks were worth the wait, in addition to Elder Brooks words of comfort.
 
The music:  There were two congregation hymns sung.  Unfortunately, I went to the bathroom on both of them, but when I returned, I love the way Fred Settles, ended them both, retarding the last line and repeating some words.  Valley Crossroads Chorale, which Fred directs, sung two numbers, Shelton Kilby did his awesome thing on the piano, Lloyd Mallory sung a hymn, Steve Mackey sung like he was going to get paid five thousand dollars, and Pastor Robinson first born, Lisa, though as she said, was in physical emotional pain, worked a medley of Face to Face, Until Then and Let’s Us Break Bread.  There was so much talking in between songs that I my soul was famine for each musical selection when they got up.  They could have sung Jesus Loves Me this I know, and I would have been cool.  They could have missed a note, but I wouldn’t have cared because I was so glad I didn’t have to listen for that moment to another person not heeding to the request/plea of the frustrated officiant Pastor Benjamin McPhaull to keep it short.  There’s a saying called, pull your coat tail:  well, he stood by them/put his hand on their shoulder, but those people kept talking.  I was quite amazed and as the hours went by I was becoming annoyed at them.  Oops, now how did I get back on that subject?
 
Not that it matters, but I believe that there are two reasons why Pastor Robinson’s funeral lasted longer than other evangelist and preacher’s funerals I’ve ever attended   The major difference is that Elder Robinson was a pastor for the last decade of his life and that truly brings you in the living room of people’s lives.  So he had just has many ‘common’ folks to speak as dignitaries.  Also, Pastor Robinson’s death was unexpected at his younger age than others who’ve died before him.  Many were saying, this is so surreal, so quick.  And it was.  Within a month after entering the hospital and learning of his illness.
 
His legacy will continue in the lives of all he touched I’m sure, but more importantly, his loving memories will be forever etched in the mind and heart of his wife of 45 years, Patricia, and his three daughters and their families and extended families.
 
When I reflect on the word marathons, I think of all the times Pastor Robinson gave up his personal time for marathon listening sessions and helping of others; and marathon evangelistic meetings in the states and abroad.  It’s no secret that what you do for others will last, way after his burial the next day at Forest Lawn at Hollywood Hills.
 
I endured to the end of the marathon service because of my friendship with Lisa & Charles, and because I decided after the second hour that sitting in those uncomfortable seats would be less stressful than sitting on the 10 Freeway in Rush Hour traffic trying to return to the Inland Empire.
 
Regardless of our personal time limits of a funeral service, that service is history, but the prayers and support are still needed for his family, friends and church members as they process this great loss and readjust their lives without his physical presence.
 
With sympathy and love,
And a recuperated sore butt from sitting,
W I L L I E
 
PS:  For those of you who are fussing about marathon/long emails, just take a deep breath thank God I’m not writing about your funeral.  In Jesus Name.  AMEN.


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