I was chatting with Nikki today at lunchtime in Rainy Hall and we covered the usual broad range of topics. I’m doing a funeral in a couple of days and I mentioned that I still don’t get the ‘privileged’ thing that many in ministry speak about. We agreed that, for us certainly, it wasn’t the best word to describe how we felt about funerals. I don’t mean to suggest that we didn’t like doing them, but that there were problems with the word itself. It didn’t seem to capture the ‘motivation’ behind doing a funeral.

As I was wandering home from the station later, it struck me what my issue with the word is, at least in my eyes. For me, it’s the wrong focus. When we speak about being privileged, the focus is on us, and how we are feeling. It’s almost as though we are getting some sort of reflected blessing from the bereaved. After all, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Maybe we’d like a little piece of blessing too?

But, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter a hoot how I feel about a funeral. It doesn’t matter whether I feel any sort of blessing from it at all. It’s not about me in any way, shape or form. I could, in theory, walk away from it utterly untouched and unconcerned and still have been a blessing to those who mourn. Because that’s the important bit. My purpose is to be part of the flow of that blessing from God, bringing the sense of comfort the bereaved need. But in a very real sense I am not even needed for that, but I’m there. And I’m there because I am called to be and so I pray for God to use me in any way necessary to bring that blessing of comfort. My only desire is to speak the words of remembrance of the deceased, to show that memories may yet live and still be spoken with pain and gladness, but nevertheless still spoken, and to communicate that there is hope beyond even those memories. But that’s not about me, or at least it shouldn’t be. That’s about giving myself over to my calling; about dying to my own desires and seeking only God’s. That, to me, is only a privilege in the very superficial of senses.

I suspect that comes across at terribly self-righteous and even critical of those who take a very humble view of privilege. It’s not my intention to criticise others, but simply to reflect on why I have an issue with the word. so, if anyone’s got a better word, I’m happy to hear it.

4 responses to “Privilege”

  1. ‘It doesn’t matter a hoot how I feel…’
    There speaks the theological student I fear. When you end up in a parish, it isn’t long before you start making connections with people and it starts getting personal. When you deal with the deaths of friends in the congregation you can bet that your feeling will give more than a ‘hoot’. Theological theorising goes out the window when praticalities arrive.
    The privilege, for me, arises from being allowed to try to guide people through a hugely difficult time in their lives. Yes, it’s part of the calling, a part that I could do without (given the number of funerals already dealt with this year) but you are allowed into someone’s life. That’s the point of the privilege. It’s nothing to do with the blessing. Although, having written that, when they say that you’ve summed up their loved one in a way that gives them support and comfort, then there may indeed be a hidden blessing.
    Not sure that there’s another word for it. It’s part of being there for someone if time of need. Something of the Matthew concept of when I needed someone maybe ?

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for replying.

    I fear I may have miscommunicated my intent. When I say that ‘It doesn’t matter a hoot how I feel,’ my intention is not to suggest that I am unfeeling nor am I unmoved by funerals and bereavement. And indeed I do give a ‘hoot’ for those to whom I am providing pastoral care. What I am saying is that my motivation is not to get a feeling of privilege, nor is it to feel good about myself for making a difficult time easier, nor is it about thinking how good I am at being a compassionate neighbour.

    As for theological theorising going out the window, one of the main thrusts of the current training and formation process is to ensure that, through things like journalling, theological theorising doesn’t get ignored. Rather, it becomes part of an ingrained reflective process where the practical and the theological inform one another. Otherwise the practical risks overrunning the theological and we end up being no different to any secular support group in our practices.

    And that’s what led me to reflect on the idea of privilege. Even the idea of it arising from  ‘being allowed to try to guide people’ still holds a taint of prideful-ness (and I’m not suggesting that you are) as if we are somehow better than others at this. Now, it’s true that our training does prepare us for such activity, but we do not have a monopoly on such skills. Indeed there are many who are far better at providing care and comfort in such circumstances than we are. Ministers though have a somewhat unique perspective to bring to bear, so I suppose in that sense we are in a privileged position, but that should never be an excuse for accruing privilege for ourselves.

    Maybe the word simply has too much baggage to be entirely convincing for me. here’s a dictionary definition of the word. None of the definitions contain the humility I believe is necessary.

    privilege [prívv?lij] noun (plural privileges)
    1.    restricted right or benefit: an advantage, right, or benefit that is not available to everyone
    2.    rights and advantages enjoyed by elite: the rights and advantages enjoyed by a relatively small group of people, usually as a result of wealth or social status • a system founded on privilege
    3.    special honour: a special treat or honour • It was a privilege to work with you.
    4.    lawmaker’s right to special treatment: the right to, or granting of, special treatment or benefits to members of a lawmaking body, for example freedom from prosecution

    Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.


  3. It seems there is a lot of miscommunication going on here. I seem to have touched a nerve with what I said, but didn’t intend it that way. I was crediting you with professional detachment and not even hinting that you were in any way ‘unfeeling’. Sorry if I implied that. You rightly focus on the bereaved family and not on yourself as the officiating clergy. My worry was that with the impartiality and detachment that I read into your ‘hoot’ statement you were possibly ignoring a major factor in funeral taking, that is, the emotional state of the minister. I have aspired to having a detcahment in doing funerals that still allows for feeling to come through what is said and done. It’s a dangerous line, as I’ve discovered recently with a few funerals that were a bit too personal.  You have a great ability to verbalise systematic theology and sometimes that comes across as being a little theoretical.
    I meant no criticism of how you do things.
    I’d probably opt for definition 3 without the ‘treat’ bit. There is also no doubt in my mind that humility has to play a part in this action we perform for bereaved families as you rightly identify and when we see ourselves as the foucs we’ve got it wrong. 
    I would still say that we have to be aware of our emotional input into these things from a health perspective as well as from a spiritual one.  Having had a rush of funerals here I was reminded of my first year in ministry where my diary was virtually dictated my the phone call from undertakers and there can be a depression that sets in when all you see to be doing is related to death and dying.
    So… sorry if I hit a nerve. Didn’t mean to and hope I’ve explained where I’m coming from in a better way. 

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