I Need Some Advice…

For an upcoming funeral. The deceased was a Christmas-and-Easter churchgoer; most (a slim majority) of the extended family are atheist, with a mix of religions (mostly various Protestant Christian) a strong minority. And one daughter, Catholic, who wants to sing The Lord’s Prayer at the memorial.

The question I was asked, and which I am passing along to you… can you think of a compromise song? Something that won’t have either the religious or the atheist half of the attendees rolling their eyes?

Hmmm.. the lord’s prayer? Last time I was at a family gathering of a substantial number of people, just saying the lord’s prayer was hilarious, with a handful of us just looking around for the other atheists in the crowd, and two strange moments when different versions of the prayer collided–“debts” versus “trespasses”, and “for thine is the kingdom…” which only half the people said. When even the prayer named for your religion’s savior divides rather than unites the various Christian sects, there has got to be something better to sing to a diverse group.


  1. says

    Maybe gently remind the daughter of the differences of religion in the family and the specific problem of the Lord’s prayer? You could fall back on playing a piece of instrumental music, or if the aim is to sing all together, choose a song that was a favorite of the deceased.

  2. Al Dente says

    Have the audience (gang? crowd? assortment?) sing something relevant and uplifting. I suggest The Who’s “Won’t Be Fooled Again”.

  3. says

    If the service is being held at a church, consult with the minister of music (organist, choir director – various titles). He or she will have experience in this matter and can make suggestions. (BTW, do not assume that the church’s lead musician is a member of the church or even is a religious person. It’s a professional calling and religious qualifications are not usually required.) I have no experience with funeral homes, but if they have a staff musician or a music consultant, that person should be able to assist you.

  4. badgersdaughter says

    I grew up religious. My mother became a fundamentalist after having been brought up Jewish and then transitioning to Unitarian (yeah, I know). My father was a vocal agnostic and a respected Presbyterian church elder (OK, I grant you people are strange). My brother is just a straight-up suburban charismatic believer. When Dad died, his pastor did the perfect, exactly right, most loving possible thing… she knew I am an atheist but still love the old traditional hymns of the old Scottish church, so she asked me to select music that Dad would have liked and that wouldn’t be offensive to me.

    My advice is to choose music respectful of what the person liked in life. If they liked religious music, choose based on artistic quality, and on what would best remind the funeralgoers of the deceased person.

  5. Pliny the in Between says

    Other than Badgersdaughter’s advise, one song that I have heard at a memorial service that seemed to bridge the gap between religious and secular feelings was ‘You raise me up.” The song works equally well to me as a celebration of parental or spousal love as it does spiritually for others

  6. Randomfactor says

    Don’t think anyone would like my advice: let her sing. Others can express themselves as they want too, but it’s her father, no? Unless, in the unlikely even she’s doing it out of spite.

  7. ildi says

    I’m with Randomfactor on this one. It’s HER mom/dad, who was not an atheist. I don’t think in this case the wishes of the “extended family” are all that important, unless it is the spouse/other siblings who is asking the question.

    You also don’t mention how experienced a singer the daughter is. Does she sing professionally? In the choir? From her heart? Maybe it’s the only song she feels comfortable singing in puclic? Maybe it brings back bittersweet memories of her singing this song at Easter or Christmas service with her parent? How, exactly, is the request for her to sing something else supposed to play out, anyway, without much hard feelings?

    (I think “Everything Must Change” is a good choice for a nonreligious service.)

  8. Cuttlefish says

    Actually, Randomfactor, as I understand the situation, that is the default position–she can and will sing what she chooses to. Any change in what song, must first and foremost be acceptable to her. There is no intent (well, by most) to hush her up, and every attempt to recognize her needs in this.

  9. Mary L says

    At my mother’s memorial service, I had the organist play, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Mom was part Irish, full of life and everybody’s friend. She also loved the song. The memorial service was about Mom and I wanted a piece of music that would “reflect” her. Everyone who spoke to me said it was a perfect choice. I’m glad that some sang along while I cried.

    Mom was Roman Catholic but hadn’t been to church in years so the service was held in a small, non-denominational chapel near home. I couldn’t NOT have some kind of service for her. My father was very pleased with what I did, but, well, lost without her and couldn’t bear attending.. The minister there knew Mom but she didn’t attend services. She used to crochet afghans that were given to homeless people, and small, soft afghans for neo-natal hospital wards. The minister distributed them.

    A long way to say that I’m in agreement that the one person to keep in mind is the one being remembered.

  10. Emu Sam says

    The last funeral I was at, they had me sing a lullaby. I’m not sure which – probably either Brahms’s Lullaby or “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins – the decision was a bit rushed.

    It was an atheist service, but many of the artists there were a little annoyed by the scientific view of the officiate – they wanted more of a story, an explanation for why she had died (suicide), and the officiate only said that there was no evidence for any hypothesis beyond what we already knew, so he wouldn’t suggest one.

  11. Cuttlefish says

    ildi, I can’t go into too much. The spouse of the deceased is an atheist, as are all the (adult) children, save this one. The extended family is mentioned only because they are very close, and very diverse.

    She is vocally trained, and a church choir director.

    What is wanted, of course, may not be possible–what is wanted is a win-win-win, something that she is happy with, not just accepting of; something the others are happy with, not just accepting of; and, of course, something appropriate to the memory of the deceased.

  12. badgersdaughter says

    If she’s a church choir director, then she’s been trained to judge the appropriateness of music to a setting. All you are going to be able to do is to let her know that the atheists want to honor the deceased in a way that doesn’t cause them additional distress. If she chooses to sing the Lord’s Prayer anyway, it’s her personal tribute to the dead and, oh well.

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