It’s just amazing how rude people can be at funerals these days, ministers say.
Seemingly without fail they see mourners talking on cell phones during services, making inappropriate comments about the deceased or watching them slurp fast-food fountain drinks in front of caskets – to name a few.
Perhaps most galling of all, they say, is the apparent audacity of those behaving inconsiderately.
“It’s the boldness with which people do things that blows my mind,” said LaTonya McIver Penny, the senior pastor at New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Roxboro, North Carolina.
Penny and two other ministers interviewed by Baptist News Global shared similar sentiments on the topic of rude behavior at funerals.
But they aren’t alone. The issue has reached a level sufficient to have experts offering suggestions to mourners on how to act – and more importantly, not act – when attending memorials and funerals.
Huffington Post recently presented advice from etiquette experts on the subject, warning potential offenders against arriving late, using cell phones, bringing coffee or dressing like a night club is the next destination.
In general, don’t be a distraction, those experts said.
Oh, and avoid cheesy theological statements to try to comfort the bereaved.
Doyle Sager, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, told BNG he has plenty of experience in the matter, including hearing weak comments like “she’s in a better place” now.
Sager said via e-mail that he’s heard “lots of inane statements as people try to theologize” by saying “God wanted your 2-year-old baby for His garden in heaven, etc.”
Sager also recalled a man who apparently had gone out to eat before a funeral.
“A gentleman walked up the casket for viewing before the service, Hardees fountain drink in his hand.”
But insensitive behavior is nothing new in the funeral realm, said Barry Howard, the pastor at Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta.
It was once common, at least in the South, for funerals to last for hours and feature multiple preachers playing on grief and fear to evangelize mourners, he said.
Howard, who has conducted more than 1,024 funerals during his career, said he considers it inappropriate manipulate emotions to win new church members, or to get old ones back.
“That’s preying on and exacerbating grief,” he said.
Most of the etiquette issues today result from unchurched Americans being unaware of how to behave in churches – or having any concept of sacred space, Howard said.
Improper dress and language and bringing beverages into sanctuaries likely results from that trend, he said.
“People should respect the custom of the church, and many of them do post signs,” he said.
But it’s something that’s going to take time.
“We’re back to a learning curve,” Howard said.
‘A basic lack of respect’
No one seemed ready to make the issue a generational one, however.
Penny, for example, said young adults are not the problem here.
“We can’t blame Millennials for this. Their dresses are a littler shorter, but that’s about it,” she said.
“Most incidents involve middle-agers who don’t go to church or who show up in club clothes or go out to smoke.”
But there are plenty of incidents to go around for all ages, she added.
Coming and going from the sanctuary during the funeral – to use the restroom, have a smoke or take a call – is routine, Penny said.
Or, it’s common to see individuals who are texting each other or taking selfies and, in some cases, taking calls right there in the pews.
“They’ll answer the phone and say, ‘I’m at a funeral,’” she said.
“The craziest thing I have seen is the family (of the deceased), all on their phones on the front row and they weren’t paying attention at all to the funeral.”
Another recent trend is mourners standing to make comments – invited or uninvited.
“People will get up and talk about the bad stuff people did, or make it all about themselves,” she said. “I heard someone say ‘I remember when we used to get drunk back in the day. . . . ’”
Penny agreed the issue stems from an unchurched culture.
“I think it’s just a basic lack of knowledge and a basic lack of respect.”