By Walter Boomsma
It recently became my sad privilege (notice I did not say “duty”) to serve once again as the chaplain in a Grange Burial Service. Bill Bemis, master of Garland Grange and Piscataquis Pomona, and I actually make a pretty good team. We’ve had far more practice than we’d like and rehearsals are no longer necessary. Bill always remembers the ribbons and flowers and other than a few quick exchanges before we start, things seem to proceed smoothly At this most recent, the funeral director thanked us profusely for so serving. Since several of our services have been with him, he’s part of the team as well.
Many of the traditions surrounding death and burial are shifting and in some cases being forgotten. We can debate whether or not this is a good thing, but my experience has been that most people find many of the “old” practices comforting and respectful.
The Grange Burial Service can, of course, be found in the Subordinate Grange Manual. There is no need for memorization—even ministers and other professionals who perform services frequently tend to use their manuals—if only for support during what is surely a difficult time when it can be easy to lose one’s place and thoughts. We are driven by a desire to support the family and friends. That, above all, determines what is correct.
There are, by the way, some significant differences between the service found in older manuals when compared to the “new” manual issued in 2013. In all honestly, I greatly prefer the older version for several reasons.
The 2013 version is significantly shorter than the previous. While burials should be relatively brief, the brevity of the 2013 version is achieved by omitting much. I suspect the 2013 version would, even at a slow pace, only last several minutes! More importantly, the 2013 version seems to omit or shorten many of the “lessons” offered in the older version—lessons that offer important comfort and reflection.
Another difference is that the 2013 version omits the hymns and singing—and that is supported by generally accepted practice. I cannot remember the last time I was at burial service of any type where attendees were asked to sing. When conducting the Grange service, I will often recite the words to the suggested songs as poetry.
The most important considerations are the family’s preferences and what the acting Chaplain and Master are comfortable with. Both manuals make it clear the service is optional. Given the fluidity in today’s practices, there is some room for “customizing.” While I do not think it is appropriate to conduct long eulogies as part of a burial service, I will offer a few brief comments or a pleasant memory of the deceased to ensure that the service is delivered in a way that is truly about him or her.
To that point, many people (Grangers included) are not aware or will forget during times of trouble that there is such a thing as a Grange Burial Service. The Subordinate Grange Manual also includes a “Grange Service for Private Home or Funeral Home.” There is certainly no requirement that these be conducted for a deceased Granger, those who remain would perhaps like to know that the Grange can support and help. There is a requirement for draping the charter, also included in the Subordinate Grange Manual. It is entirely appropriate to remind our brothers and sisters of these services and other support the Grange may provide such as hosting family and friends after a service.
This column is certainly not mean to be morbid—it is offered as a reminder that our traditions demonstrate how there is a Grange way of life (and in this case, death). While traditions change and society develops, the Grange remains relevant and viable.
I would challenge chaplains to fully explore your duties and opportunities. If you are re-elected or newly elected this month, listen carefully to the charge you are given during installation “…to be faithful to your calling… may the spiritual seed you shall sow fall on good soil, and bring forth an hundredfold. Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt gather it after many days…”
In the alternate installation, chaplains are instructed more specifically, “When it becomes necessary, you will conduct a memorial service to honor members who have gone on before us. Your loving touch will add to the ceremony…”
The chaplain should be assisted by every member as we labor together to support each other in times of sadness and in times of joy. We should bring a “loving touch” to all our work together. When we conduct the “altar circle” during the installation of new members, the master promises, “…we pledge to you our friendship… a pure friendship, enduring through life, to shield you from harm…” That’s a great way of life.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.