Making Memorials Memorable and Rituals Rich
As I write this I know many of you are planning All Saints/All Souls Sunday. But I also know that so many of you have the task of creating memorials frequently as you pastor and usher folks through rites of life, death and life beyond death. These times can be some of the most trying–but also the most poignant–if we pay attention to what I call “making ritual rich.”
I am sharing with you a snippet of a memorial service that I designed for General Conference worship a few months ago in the form of a video. The excerpts begin with a procession of lanterns out to the shore to be launched into the water. Then we cut to just after we have read the names of folks and left some silence for people to name others… you’ll hear our sung response and what comes after. Some things to notice as you watch:
- The way that three musical pieces of various genres live easily side-by-side: the excerpts start with a Charles Wesley hymn, the “Peace of the Oceans” sung response is traditional Guatemalan, the solo is “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” and the final hymn tune is very traditional although the words are more recently written by John Bell. Each was chosen because of the liturgical purpose each evoked–honor, prayer, personal connection and hopeful grandeur.
- The color and texture “palette” of the visuals that gets repeated in the media behind: we filmed the launching of the candle lanterns into the water just outside the convention center as each name was read. Then the film of the lanterns floating continued as the solo was sung and pictures of the deceased were slowly integrated (even timing of media switching creates or destroys mood).
- The verbal poetic art of the Bishop’s benediction carried the same themes of water and shoreline that infused the whole service.
- The timing of the final hymn coming in at the end of the benediction and the way we choreographed the introduction to that hymn with the visuals of the cross, Christ Light and the clouds (traditional visions of heavenly hope) behind on the screens.
Watch the video: http://youtu.be/YSVpDezPoaQ
Ok… so you may not have all those bells and whistles for simple memorials or an All Saints service BUT what lessons about “making ritual rich” can you learn from this?
1. Symbols are our number one language in worship. The lanterns held the physical, tangible representation of the deceased. What symbols can you use that would hold meaning? And then how can that metaphor be woven through music, liturgy, visuals and action?
2. Let it flow… less instructions/verbiage and more moving from one thing to another simply allows people to dwell in a contemplative space.
3. Beauty in visuals settings, media and lighting should be one of the top considerations in preparing for meaningful ritual.
Many blessings on making your memorial rituals rich, my friends.