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Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral

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Thomas Long begins this fascinating volume by describing how the Christian funeral developed historically, theologically, and liturgically, and then discusses recent cultural trends in funeral practices, including the rise in both cremations and memorial services. He describes the basic pattern for a funeral service, details options in funeral planning, identifies characte Thomas Long begins this fascinating volume by describing how the Christian funeral developed historically, theologically, and liturgically, and then discusses recent cultural trends in funeral practices, including the rise in both cremations and memorial services. He describes the basic pattern for a funeral service, details options in funeral planning, identifies characteristics of a good funeral, and provides thoughtful guidance for preaching at a funeral. Long also notes a disturbing trend toward funeral services that seem theologically right and pastorally caring, but actually depart from the primary aims of the Christian funeral. He argues that a new, less-theological and less-satisfying service that focuses on the mourner has begun to erode the Christian view. He contrasts the ancient grand community drama with today's trend toward body-less memorial services that focus primarily on the living and grief management. This is a loss for the church, he argues, and he calls for the church to reclaim the classic metaphor.


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Thomas Long begins this fascinating volume by describing how the Christian funeral developed historically, theologically, and liturgically, and then discusses recent cultural trends in funeral practices, including the rise in both cremations and memorial services. He describes the basic pattern for a funeral service, details options in funeral planning, identifies characte Thomas Long begins this fascinating volume by describing how the Christian funeral developed historically, theologically, and liturgically, and then discusses recent cultural trends in funeral practices, including the rise in both cremations and memorial services. He describes the basic pattern for a funeral service, details options in funeral planning, identifies characteristics of a good funeral, and provides thoughtful guidance for preaching at a funeral. Long also notes a disturbing trend toward funeral services that seem theologically right and pastorally caring, but actually depart from the primary aims of the Christian funeral. He argues that a new, less-theological and less-satisfying service that focuses on the mourner has begun to erode the Christian view. He contrasts the ancient grand community drama with today's trend toward body-less memorial services that focus primarily on the living and grief management. This is a loss for the church, he argues, and he calls for the church to reclaim the classic metaphor.

30 review for Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral

  1. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    Several years ago, I was invited to attend a seminar for pastors hosted by a large funeral home in our city. I decided to go, if for no other reason than out of sheer curiosity as to why the funeral home would be hosting a seminar for pastors. The speaker was Tom Long, and the content of that seminar was an overview of the major themes of this book. I was so captivated by what he was saying, I had to purchase the book. When I attended the seminar, and subsequently began reading the book, I was st Several years ago, I was invited to attend a seminar for pastors hosted by a large funeral home in our city. I decided to go, if for no other reason than out of sheer curiosity as to why the funeral home would be hosting a seminar for pastors. The speaker was Tom Long, and the content of that seminar was an overview of the major themes of this book. I was so captivated by what he was saying, I had to purchase the book. When I attended the seminar, and subsequently began reading the book, I was still reeling from a couple of funerals I had recently performed in which the requests of the surviving families for a "personalized" service had completely bypassed "sublime" and made a bee-line for "ridiculous." Hearing Dr. Long speak, and reading his more thorough explanations, about what went wrong with funerals, what they are supposed to be, and how to fix them, was so refreshing and practically helpful. The book deals with funerals from a distinctly Christian perspective, and does so historically, philosophically, theologically, pastorally, and practically. I have recommended the book to nearly every pastor I know, and I never miss an opportunity to implement some of its many helpful applications in my own ministry as I conduct funerals. Long helps us to not only do better what we do, but also to do it with more understanding of why we do those things. It is the ideal balance of theory and practice. There are a few places throughout the book where Long's personal theological commitments surface, and I would charitably classify some of his views as "left of center." Despite his thoroughly "gospel" vocabulary, there are indications that Long is "inclusivist" in his soteriology, with periodic flashes of what could be understood as universalism here and there in the book. There is also a steady stream of sacramentalism that would be questionable to many Baptists (myself included). In short, Long represents the theological commitments of mainline Protestantism, and as someone who stands outside the mainline, I find many places where my theology differs, and I consider Long to be not just wrong but dead and dangerously wrong. Thankfully those places are infrequent in the book. So, the book is not without its shortcomings. And yet, on a scale of 1-5, I would STILL give it a 5! It really is that good. At times, Long is firm in biblical conviction about a belief or practice that has Scriptural underpinnings. Then there are moments when he is firm, yet realistic when it comes to matters of traditional practice. And there are moments of refreshing candor when he acknowledges liberty for personal preferences and local traditions to arise. But the clarion call of this book is that there is something different about the funeral of a Christian. And that "something different" is to be experienced, shared, and even celebrated by the entire community of faith as we walk them to the edge of eternity and bid them farewell. There are four kinds of people who should read this book. The author's intent is undoubtedly for his book to be read by pastors. However, there is benefit to be found beyond the clergy. If I were in a position of authority with a funeral home, I would require this book to be read by every staff member. Thirdly, if you are a Christian and you foresee a day in your own future wherein you would have to carry out the responsibilities of laying your loved one to rest, you would certainly benefit from the entire book. Fourth, knowing that one day you will attend your last funeral (as the guest of honor no doubt), reading this book could be of tremendous help to you as you talk about your wishes with your family. So, bottom line -- 5 stars, Must reading for pastors and church leaders; good reading even for those who are not. My hope is that the book will be read widely, the ideas will be championed broadly, and that we might see a "Reformation" of funerary practices in contemporary American culture.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I really liked a lot of what Long has to say about the meaning of funerals--we are performing a drama that depicts the Gospel. I really appreciate his idealism and helpful diagramming of what a Christian funeral could/should look like. The second and third chapters were where I found myself disagreeing with him. It seems that Long does not believe in bi- or tri-partate persons. He does not believe that people have souls but that they are souls. He labels anyone with such notions as "quasi-gnosti I really liked a lot of what Long has to say about the meaning of funerals--we are performing a drama that depicts the Gospel. I really appreciate his idealism and helpful diagramming of what a Christian funeral could/should look like. The second and third chapters were where I found myself disagreeing with him. It seems that Long does not believe in bi- or tri-partate persons. He does not believe that people have souls but that they are souls. He labels anyone with such notions as "quasi-gnostics" or "Platonists." He uses N.T. Wright to make part of his point, and then diverges with him at this one. At first, I believed that Long was advocating some kind of "soul sleep," but he clarified that he believes that the person who has died immediately raises to life in the final Resurrection of the Dead. The reasons he gives for this belief are Einsteinian theories of relative time--eternal vs earthly (historic). So, to his view, there is not an intermediate state from the dead person's perspective, but this doesn't get around to explaining exactly what is being raised. If it is the essence of the person, doesn't that constitute a spirit or a soul? Where does the continuity come from? In these matters he is unclear and unhelpful whereas N.T. Wright was both.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

    I can count the funerals I've attended with one hand and of those I went to, I was never involved with the careful and reflective behind-the-scenes planning and organizing. Thomas G. Long provides readers with a useful guide for how those in pastoral care should approach preparing and enacting a funeral service. He cautions against the temptation to be dualistic (soul/body dichotomy) and against overpersonalizing the funeral so that it becomes tacky. He reminds readers that discernment is always I can count the funerals I've attended with one hand and of those I went to, I was never involved with the careful and reflective behind-the-scenes planning and organizing. Thomas G. Long provides readers with a useful guide for how those in pastoral care should approach preparing and enacting a funeral service. He cautions against the temptation to be dualistic (soul/body dichotomy) and against overpersonalizing the funeral so that it becomes tacky. He reminds readers that discernment is always required because every person is unique and every funeral thus has its unique context, though the proclamation of the Good News must always be included. It is often necessary to juggle tradition and innovation as well as the deceased individual and the needs of mourners (is the funeral ONLY about the deceased or is it ONLY about those who mourn or some combination of the two?). Death does not destroy, but it changes the relationship, between the living and the dead. Along the way, he also details how shifts in attitude in the West and among Christians regarding death have altered funeral practices. I highly recommend this book to those in ministry and pastoral care.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Woods

    Anything written by Tom Long I think of as required reading for pastors, regardless of the type of ministry in which you are involved. What I found helpful in this book was his observation that the Christian funeral reminds us of our baptism, the beginning of our Christian lives, that sets us off on a journey. The funeral itself marks the end of that journey, and the service represents the congregation accompanying the deceased on the last part of their life journey to the place of burial. As Ch Anything written by Tom Long I think of as required reading for pastors, regardless of the type of ministry in which you are involved. What I found helpful in this book was his observation that the Christian funeral reminds us of our baptism, the beginning of our Christian lives, that sets us off on a journey. The funeral itself marks the end of that journey, and the service represents the congregation accompanying the deceased on the last part of their life journey to the place of burial. As Christians, however, we understand that death and the grave do not have the final word. Christ gives us the promise and hope of resurrection. As for what I did not find entirely helpful in the book - Tom takes a very eschatological view towards death and dying. I do not object to eschatology - it represents our hope in Jesus Christ, his second coming, and of the resurrection of the body. What I wince from is his description of death as an enemy, whom (I think he said) "is worthy only of our sneer," and Christ has conquered death. While I agree that Christ has conquered death, I believe he has done so in the way that Christ always conquers - not through destruction, but through love. St Francis of Assisi represents this view of death in the prayer he prayed at the time of his own death, welcoming Sister Death From whose embrace no one can escape Happy are those whom she finds doing your will The second death has no reach over them. I guess the point I'm trying to get across here is that there are other Christian views of death that do not rely on militaristic imagery.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cape Rust

    A Multi-tool for Christian Funerals This book was recommended to me by a Undertaker (Funeral Director, read the book you will understand) who’s father, a pastor recommended to her. As a pastor who has officiated many funerals, this book spoke to me. This book is about getting back to the basics of a Christian funeral, and what those basics really mean. This book as well written as it is has a limited audience, but the people that should read this book, need to read this book, but clergy and unde A Multi-tool for Christian Funerals This book was recommended to me by a Undertaker (Funeral Director, read the book you will understand) who’s father, a pastor recommended to her. As a pastor who has officiated many funerals, this book spoke to me. This book is about getting back to the basics of a Christian funeral, and what those basics really mean. This book as well written as it is has a limited audience, but the people that should read this book, need to read this book, but clergy and undertakers alike.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jefferson

    Long's writing is better than his theology. This, I expected. It is rather less silly than I expected, and I thank him for that. I intend to slowly re-read this book and reflect carefully upon the issues and questions Long raised. The structure of his book is tolerable, after all.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Mauney

    Wow. Why didn’t anyone make me read this in seminary? Portions of this book almost singlehandedly carried me through officiating my first funeral and graveside back in January, and I finally finished the rest of the book today. Brb going to tell all my pastor friends to read this ASAP

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I wish I'd had this book in seminary!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sean Cavender

    I liked this book a great deal. I found it to restore some good thoughts involving the funeral against modern day practices and mindsets.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    One of the inevitabilities of Christian ministry is the Christian funeral. Many ministers find presiding over funerals to be both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. However, with the ever pressing demand of Sunday services, the death of a saint does not often allow for thorough analysis of the meaning and purpose of a Christian funeral. Without theological reflection, the minister can easily be swept along into whatever practices are en vogue for the moment. Thomas Long, in his bo One of the inevitabilities of Christian ministry is the Christian funeral. Many ministers find presiding over funerals to be both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. However, with the ever pressing demand of Sunday services, the death of a saint does not often allow for thorough analysis of the meaning and purpose of a Christian funeral. Without theological reflection, the minister can easily be swept along into whatever practices are en vogue for the moment. Thomas Long, in his book Accompany Them with Singing, seeks to fill what he sees as a void in current Christian thinking about funerals. For decades, Long argues, Christian funerals have lost the plot. Two key factors have led funerals astray. First, ministers (and others presiding at funerals) have too thoroughly bought into a therapeutic model for the Christian funeral. In this model, the funeral is meant for the living, to bring comfort for the grieving. The funeral is not truly about the deceased, or God for that matter. Second, Christian funerals have adopted dualistic language about the body and soul that underplays the embodied nature of the Christian life. We have disregarded the body of the deceased in both our words and our practice. By contrast, Long desires for the Christian funeral to recover its gospel character. The saint who has died is on the journey to God. We have gathered to witness their passage. The very notes that should sound at any presentation of the gospel (baptism, repentance, death, resurrection, forgiveness, adoption, etc.) should sound at the Christian funeral. These notes should sound with all the particularity of the context of the community and the deceased. The funeral will bring comfort, but Long argues this is a by-product of the gospel, not the purpose of the funeral itself. The funeral should be personal, but not personalized, which would ultimately obscure the gospel. The breadth of Long’s study of the Christian funeral serves as its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Long serves to get much of the relevant material on the table for further discussion. For a single volume, Long manages to accomplish a lot. He frames issues well, but his desire to respect the contextual particularities of different regions means he leaves many questions open on which I would have preferred more clarity. Additionally, Long’s critique of platonic dualism in Christian funeral practice seems warranted, if a little heavy-handed at times (He even goes so far as to accuse N.T. Wright of Platonism). Overall, I found Accompany Them with Singing helpful in thinking about how I lead funerals. I enjoyed the way Long wove theology and history together in a way that helped give me a clearer picture of the present. While not perfect, it is still a worthy introduction to the theology and practice of the Christian funeral.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    At the "Reclaiming the Text" Preaching Conference, Montreat 2006, my former preaching professor Tom Long pulled me out of my seat in the front row to join him in the journey of the Prodigal Son, whose story he was re-telling in a lecture on preaching themes from the Gospel of Luke. In reading his recent book on the Christian funeral, I feel a similar tug on my arm as Long invites the reader to understand the Church's ministry in the wake of death in terms of a "journey." The journey that Long t At the "Reclaiming the Text" Preaching Conference, Montreat 2006, my former preaching professor Tom Long pulled me out of my seat in the front row to join him in the journey of the Prodigal Son, whose story he was re-telling in a lecture on preaching themes from the Gospel of Luke. In reading his recent book on the Christian funeral, I feel a similar tug on my arm as Long invites the reader to understand the Church's ministry in the wake of death in terms of a "journey." The journey that Long traces moves from preparation of the body of a "holy person," to a processional that walks through a "holy place," filled with "holy people," using a "holy script," all the way to the end of the journey at the grave or crematorium. Characteristic of his writing, Long’s richly descriptive sentences convey experiential truth in a way that awes the average pastor, who often labors for hours in vain to achieve a similar result. Take a look at chapter seven “The Marks of a Good Funeral” for several examples, i.e. “At weddings, pastors sometimes feel trampled by overenthusiastic couples and their ‘wedding handlers,’ who can on occasion treat pastors as props, ecclesiastical bling in a schmaltzy fairy tale scripted by Brides Magazine. The wildness of death, however, is not so easily managed.” In the “acknowledgements” and “introduction” that preface the book, Long describes a 14-year journey of writing the book, a journey during which many of his attitudes, assumptions, and pastoral instincts were challenged. Long’s emphasis upon the importance of the body reflects his relatively recent and vibrant opposition to the neo-Gnostic bent of so much contemporary spirituality. To a degree that was not true before the writing of this book, Long now believes and emphasizes that to God, the flesh matters. The inclusion of the body in Christian worship at times of death, literally, or at least symbolically, and accompanying the body of the one for whom Christ has died all the way to the grave, is, in his mind, a vital element that marks the funeral as “Christian.” Long’s book is offered as the first comprehensive treatise on the Christian funeral in more than fifty years. Readers looking for a simple nuts-and-bolts “how to” manual will be disappointed. But clergy who regularly officiate funerals will be rewarded with a thoughtful appraisal of current funeral practices, and a cohesive theological foundation for informing ministry at times of death. “In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ, for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Apostolic Constitutions, 6.30

  12. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    In many ways, I really liked this book, especially towards the beginning. Much of the information presented appeared to be thoroughly researched, and I will definitely incorporate a lot of that material into my own ministry. His discourses on life after death, the importance of the body at the funeral, and death as a journey are top-notch theological reflections. Alongside of all of this, Long offers a ton of practical help for preachers. However, there is just too much about this book that bugs In many ways, I really liked this book, especially towards the beginning. Much of the information presented appeared to be thoroughly researched, and I will definitely incorporate a lot of that material into my own ministry. His discourses on life after death, the importance of the body at the funeral, and death as a journey are top-notch theological reflections. Alongside of all of this, Long offers a ton of practical help for preachers. However, there is just too much about this book that bugs me for me to rate it any higher. Primarily, I closed the final page feeling as if this book was too triumphalistic. Long looks too glibly at death for my taste as one who has to face pastoral issues on a daily basis. Without wasting too much digital space, I will say that I think he overlooks both the "Good Friday" element and the lament tradition of the Christian life. I have found much deeper reflection on the pastoral dimension of the reality/pain of death (in proper prospective alongside Christian hope) from other scholars like Richard Hays, Walter Brueggemann, and Allen Verhey. Also, he leaves out way too much at the end on difficult funerals. We only get a few paragraphs on what comprises a large chunk of the funerals over which I preside. Finally, I wanted more on the extant funeral liturgies/prayer books. He does not go into detail as to why he prefers some liturgies better than others and how we might incorporate them into our tradition's liturgies. With all of this said, this is still a crucial book for a pastor's library. In fact, I would love for Long to write a similar book on weddings.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Accompany Them with Singing is a magnificent short volume on the funeral. Thomas Long begins with a historical overview of the Christian funeral, beginning with the Jewish and Roman funeral rituals that the church drew from. He covers the theology around the funeral and how the service, at its best should e “worshipful drama†that reenacts what we believe about life and death and the resurrection. Next, he suggests how we might make funerals more meaningful. Finally, Long covers preac Accompany Them with Singing is a magnificent short volume on the funeral. Thomas Long begins with a historical overview of the Christian funeral, beginning with the Jewish and Roman funeral rituals that the church drew from. He covers the theology around the funeral and how the service, at its best should e “worshipful drama†that reenacts what we believe about life and death and the resurrection. Next, he suggests how we might make funerals more meaningful. Finally, Long covers preaching at funerals and offers some advice on how to handle difficult cases such as the death of a child or a suicide. Long is critical of the modern trend to memorial services in which the body of the deceased isn’t present. The body, according to Long, offers a second sermon. It is a visual reminder that life is fleeting, that we will all die and that our hope isn’t in this world. Although Long wants the service to be personalized, he also advises caution here as the purpose of all such services is to focus the attention on the God who gives life (and resurrection) and not to overly emphasize the deceased. Long also envisions the service to be a journey (from life to death, from the church to the burial) and likes the symbolism of moving with the body to its final resting place (or to the crematorium.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    The author provides good information, but belabors his point...that the body should be present at a Christian funeral, whether whole or cremated. But then he belabors that point repeatedly...this book could have made an important and interesting (if somewhat long) article, but as a book, it becomes simply repetitive. Perhaps the best portion of the book comes at the end when the author enumerates "The Eight Purposes of a Good Funeral Sermon" and gives some ideas about "Difficult Funerals" (death The author provides good information, but belabors his point...that the body should be present at a Christian funeral, whether whole or cremated. But then he belabors that point repeatedly...this book could have made an important and interesting (if somewhat long) article, but as a book, it becomes simply repetitive. Perhaps the best portion of the book comes at the end when the author enumerates "The Eight Purposes of a Good Funeral Sermon" and gives some ideas about "Difficult Funerals" (death of a child, suicide.... I certainly do appreciate his view that the funeral is not for closure of the survivors, but for the person who died...the funeral is us accompanying that person on the last mile of their journey...somehow we forget that.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul Burkhart

    This is a remarkable book. It has everything. It is a reference book, but it is worth your time to read all the way through. It is immensely theological, historical, AND practical. This is so rare is such a book. The only issue is that, because it functions so well as a reference work, it doesn't stock in your mind. It won't leave an indelible mark on your mind necessarily. It's better as a book to go to when a funeral arises in your midst. You won't retain even half the things you read here, ev This is a remarkable book. It has everything. It is a reference book, but it is worth your time to read all the way through. It is immensely theological, historical, AND practical. This is so rare is such a book. The only issue is that, because it functions so well as a reference work, it doesn't stock in your mind. It won't leave an indelible mark on your mind necessarily. It's better as a book to go to when a funeral arises in your midst. You won't retain even half the things you read here, even though it's all gold. Read it through once. Then keep it close. For the time(s) you need it will surely come, and you will want to know the layout of this book to help you then.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Allister

    Thomas Long is an excellent preacher and communicator. In this book he frames the Christian understanding of death with helpful theology and ecclesiology. He confronts some of the sociological patterns of contemporary funerals and calls the Christian Church to recover a confident and clear funeral practice. Although it has a strong North American flavour, a lot of the examples are familiar in a NZ context. What I like most about this book is that it is an exploration of what we DO. Thomas Long r Thomas Long is an excellent preacher and communicator. In this book he frames the Christian understanding of death with helpful theology and ecclesiology. He confronts some of the sociological patterns of contemporary funerals and calls the Christian Church to recover a confident and clear funeral practice. Although it has a strong North American flavour, a lot of the examples are familiar in a NZ context. What I like most about this book is that it is an exploration of what we DO. Thomas Long raises the important question: what do we think we are doing when we dispose of someone's body?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Stidham

    Asks great questions, but in the end the practical suggestions fall short in my opinion. But if we ask Long's questions and dig a little deeper with a little more conviction, we might just come up with a fuller theology of Christian death and sound a clearer Christian hope of resurrection.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Clint

    Very good book. It changed my viewpoint on the funeral service. I narrowly thought that the service was to "comfort the living." This book expands that view and brings out the historical and Christological perspectives of the Christian funeral service.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

    A very helpful book for those who are preparing funerals. I would recommend to ministers and chaplains wholeheartedly, also to those who may be pondering their mortality in light of traditional Christian beliefs.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    This is a very helpful book, a great reminder of what exactly we are doing in a funeral service and the many benefits a good funeral service can have for the family and the church. Some things Dr. Long says I wouldn't completely agree with, but overall, a helpful book for any pastor.

  21. 5 out of 5

    TJ

    Awesome book. Must read for any pastor. The one limitation was the very Christian focus. Would have been nice to see unchurched or no faith funerals dealt with. But overall awesome

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Excellent text concerning the theology and mechanics of funerals. Would highly recommend for pastoral and lay readers alike.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Raffa

    I did not agree with everything he said. However, much can be learned from this little book. For one, the body matters. You don't have a body you are a body. Please shelf the Platonism.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Darcy Knight

    Excellent book, a true go-to for any pastor. Not only a great source for the theology of funerals, but also the planning.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jo Fisher-kretzler

    a very moving book, and helpful to those who write funeral liturgy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kate Davis

    rec'd by Dwight Friesen and Judith McDaniel About death as continuation of the baptism. Baptism into death--and come up from waters in newness of life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bob Pierce

    Excellent book about funerals that emphasizes a rather old-fashioned spiritual view rather than the "anything goes" philosophy of funerals seen in most funerals these days.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    A must have resource for pastors who struggle to say something relevant at funerals.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Helpful in many places as a resource for pastors . No book carries the whole story for pastoral ministry in this context, because every encounter is different

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    It's always enjoyable and edifying to read what Tom writes. This book tackles death and affirms a faithful and hopeful Christian "Amen!" to that formidable enemy.

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