We all know it is inevitable. We know it is coming. But we never seem to be ready for it. It’s death. And Walter Wiens wants to change that. Not death. He can’t do much about that. But he can do something about our lack of preparation.
Walter has served as a chaplain at a correctional center and a health center, and for the past two decades he has been Pastor of Care Ministries at the Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren Church, in Abbotsford, British Columbia. This is an aging congregation which is continually renewed with new retirees joining it. It has sometimes averaged a funeral a week. Walter discovered that in spite of this, many individuals and their families had made almost no preparations for funerals and other end-of-life issues until death intervened and they were thrust into making a host of decisions when they were often overwhelmed with grief.
Walter’s son followed his father into ministry and became pastor of another church. When a member of his new congregation died, the son realized that, like many young pastors, in all of his theological studies he had had no training in leading a funeral. He quickly phoned his father for help.
Walter felt led to respond to both issues by writing down what he had learned. The result was two books.
Preparing to Cross the Finish Line: A Guide to Help Families and Individuals with End-of-Life Issues and Funerals is a 166-page paperback which churches can give to families in need of guidance or that individuals and families can buy for themselves. It contains detailed instructions on the need to plan a funeral service, how to plan a funeral service, selecting a funeral home, the parts of a funeral service (viewing, flowers, donations in honor of a loved one, a eulogy and tributes, the presence of children, bulletins, music), and a burial service (including selecting coffins and pallbearers). But the book offers much more than this. It offers helpful instructions on dealing with family brokenness (which often surfaces during a funeral), restoring peace in families, and the need for community. It also contains chapters on dealing with issues of old age and declining health, on the role of seniors in a church, on reflecting on one’s life, and on preparing spiritually for heaven (which should begin long before old age and death). Each chapter closes with questions to encourage reflection and a prayer. The appendices include technical information on legal and financial matters, information on health issues, forms for funeral planning and for gathering financial and family information, and a list of other helpful books.
Preparing to Cross the Finish Line: A Guide to Help Families, Individuals and Pastors with End-of-Life Issues and Funerals is a 354-page hardcover book intended to serve as a manual for pastors. It includes everything that is in the book for families and individuals but also includes detailed information on how to pastor families and individuals as they prepare for and deal with their own death or the death of a loved one, a discussion on changes in funeral practices and the philosophies underlying them, many more details on planning funerals and burial services, advice about what to preach on and what not to preach on, guidance on handling a pastor’s own brokenness and limitations, and advice on handling difficult funerals (for victims of suicide or murder, for children, and for nonbelievers). It also contains further theological reflections on how people can be prepared for death and how they can be assured that they will reach heaven once they have “crossed the finish line.” This pastor’s guide is one that pastors will find useful over and over again throughout their ministry.
Both books are published under my own Mill Lake Books imprint, are distributed by Ingram, and are available through online retailers such as Amazon and bookstores throughout the world.