Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dying in Amish Country

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral for an Amish man, the father of one of our members. I wasn't sure what to expect other than the fact that the funeral would be held at the home of the deceased. I gave myself extra time to get to the house - time that I needed because I had trouble finding the place due to the fact that the local newspaper had printed the incorrect address. I arrived about ten minutes before the service was to start - not in the house as I had expected but in the barn. A group of Amish men were standing outside the barn which looked to be packed with what I later estimated to be about 250 people. I was reluctant to seek a seat on the rows and rows of benches that looked almost completely filled. I wasn't sure of the protocol and did not want to offend anyone. I thought of first time visitors to local churches who just want to blend in and not cause any disturbance. I was prepared to stand outside for the service when one of the leaders of the event identified me as an outsider. Although I was wearing black and have a beard, apparently I wasn't blending in. He found a seat for me near the door. It was a seat I would sit in for the next two hours as three different preachers offered their interpretation of God's Word to the assembled mourners (the vast majority of whom were Amish). In those two hours, with the exception of a mother taking one of her children out of the barn, no one else moved an inch or spoke a word. On this hot July day with temperatures in the 90's, we just sat there and listened as each speaker preached mostly in English but sometimes in German. I later learned that a second funeral service preached entirely in German was being held in a tent on the grounds to accommodate another section of the large crowd.

After two hours had passed, each of us was given a chance to walk by the handcrafted wooden coffin. Approximately a half hour later, the coffin was loaded onto the back of a buggy for the man's final ride to the cemetary.

The whole experience was very powerful for me because it was unlike most of the rest of my life. It was not only low tech but no tech. The pace of their service was similar to the pace of the buggy which carried the coffin - unhurried yet purposeful. No one looked at their watches or checked their email, or texted one another. No one expected to be entertained by the proceedings or got up and left early after it went beyond one hour. There were no organs or pianos played let alone an electric guitar or drums. The service was clearly not designed to keep any short attention spans engaged. There were no media clips, PowerPoint slides, or "Three Keys for Dealing with Grief."

"I didn't get anything out of it," can be a common statement of criticism by dissatisfied worshippers. Most of us have heard or said those words ourselves. Most of us have probably felt that way. The Amish funeral experience caused me to look at worship from a different perspective. Maybe true worship is not about us getting anything at all. Maybe authentic worship is about God getting something out of us. Maybe worship is about God getting our time and our attention and our hearts and our minds. Maybe worship is not something that we consume as just one more bit of entertainment. Instead worship should consume us.