Ethel was a Bible teacher at Special Gathering.  Additionally, she wrote many books for the mentally challenged community and they were published in our monthly newsletter.  Ethel and I shared a passion for writing and Special Gathering.  Therefore, we became good friends through our shared ministry concerns.  In addition, we both excelled at “going to lunch” and we practiced that part of our friendship often.

Ethel wrote for our monthly newsletter “Connecting Point,” and she was incredibly faithful in her efforts.  Even after she moved to Volusia County, Ethel always met our deadlines; and she wrote with great skill and feeling for the special needs population.
As a Bible teacher, Ethel could not be matched.  She taught the Scriptures with a keen eye for truth and clarity.  Her class was a verse-by-verse discussion study for our readers.  It has become the model for our leadership and readers classes.
My first view of Ethel came 22 years ago through Sarah, her daughter who was mentally challenged.  It was my first year at Camp Agape, our annual ministry retreat.  Sarah was my bunk mate.  I had the top bunk and she had the bottom.
On Sunday afternoon, after two days of camp, I thought I was too tired to climb to the top bunk.  Therefore, I decided to lay on Sarah’s bottom bed, thinking that she would never notice or understand.  I was wrong!
Sarah came into the cabin and jumped me.  “Get off my bed,” she insisted. “You can’t get on my bed!”  Ethel had taught Sarah well.  It is vital for our population to understand their rights and Sarah knew that I was an intruder and she wasn’t intimidated by me.  Ethel treated Sarah as an adult, and she allowed Sarah the dignity of being valued for being a child of the Lord.
One year, in touring our campgrounds, Ethel asked Sarah what she liked best about camp.  Immediately, Sarah said, “Pool.”
Shocked, Ethel said, “You don’t know how to play pool.”  Sarah walked over to the pool table and demonstrated to her mother that she certainly did know how to play the game.  Ethel laughed, “Guess she showed me.”
Ethel was never willing to compromise her faith.  Yet, she shared the message of Jesus with compassion and great love.  Her greatest legacy is her faith in Christ and love for all people but especially for the men and women who knew and loved her through her ministry within the mentally challenged community.

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. First, find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both.

God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.

If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument.

Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together.

Eulogy

Leslie Ann 

          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla.

Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers.

Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.

Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier.

Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses. She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.

Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis.

“I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat.

Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.

Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him.

Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling.

About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir. Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.

Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.

One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true

Change my heart, Oh, God,

May I be like you.

 You are the potter, I am the clay

Mold me and make me.

This is what I pray.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

May I be like you

As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)

On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”

Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”

Ed was born with Down’s syndrome. He had multiple health problems. But like most people within our community, Ed’s defective heart and weak lungs didn’t keep the man inside from being strong like a lion. The doctors told his mother and father time and again that he was going to die. Like many of your parents, their great love for their son would not allow any silly doctor-talk to stop them from fighting for his life.

Eddie did live but he did more than live. He began to show his community of family and friends the strength of a warrior. For many years, every day seemed to be a battle but each night as his parents tucked him into his bed there was a victory sigh of another day won.

Ed could not run or do a lot of the activities of early boyhood. But he could swim. His parents built a pool for their backyard. Ed became a great swimmer and competed in Special Olympics, winning lots of medals.

One year, a Special Olympics coach convinced Eddie to become a part of the Bocce team. He had never heard of this French ball game played on a lawn. The team that was gathered became good. So good, they were undefeated in the state of New Jersey, winning state gold metals.

Ed was scrappy, mischievous, and bold and people were drawn to his fun-loving ways. Of course, he wasn’t perfect. When his younger brother, David was born, two-year-old Ed wasn‘t that happy about having competition for his parent‘s time and love. After a time, he wanted to throw his baby brother out the window. David is thankful that the rest of the family rescued him.

Around the age of ten, Eddie decided to take a trip to the grocery store that was located across a steep ravine at the back of the Wihlborg’s house. Perhaps he planned a surprise for the family with dessert for dinner by purchasing Oreo’s and 7-Up. The only problem: He neglected to tell anyone where he was going.

After a search of the house and yard, they called the police. His older sister, Danielle, and David scoured the neighborhood; but Ed had vanished. Because of the steep ditch that separated the house from the store, it was thought that Ed could never make the trip to the A&P but someone finally searched the grocery store. Eddie had the Oreo’s and 7-Up in his shopping cart, casually touring the food aisles.

His first girlfriend was Dawn. Together they attended their first prom. Eddie loved a party, anybody’s party. He took over the family celebrations, neighborhood parties and every other festive occasion where he could coax the spotlight into his arena.

Whether at camp, confined to a wheelchair, or chained to an oxygen tank, Ed continued to enjoy life. He did have his favorite things. He loved night shirts, singing, his guitar (which he never actually learned to play), his best friend, John, his girl friend, Irene, and, of course, Halloween. “He planned his costume a year ahead,” his father remembered, with a grin. “He loved to dress up.”

About seven years ago, after two or three months in the hospital, Eddie announced to his parents that he wanted to move into a group home. The family found Quality Care Home in Port St Lucie and run by Mike and Renee DeRienzo. They are committed Christians, and this group home was established as a ministry. Here Eddie found HIS home.

“That little fellow wormed his way into all of our hearts,” Mike told me. “He was the one person who seemed to unify our home.”

Ed was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant. But his parents wanted him to have a church setting that would specialize in his unique learning needs. His mother found a special needs Bible study class when he was a young man. Every week, Ed attended the class and learned about the Lord Jesus.

When the family decided a move to Florida, they wanted to find a ministry where Eddie could continue to be fed in his faith. Fortunate for us, they found Special Gathering. Ed has been active since they found us. He attended our first meetings in Vero and was the first member of our choir.

What Eddie was missing in vocal excellence, he made up with his wonderful smile and eager, cooperative spirit. I knew that whenever we visited a local church, Ed would represent the Lord Jesus, himself and Special Gathering well. He was an ambassador for the Lord within the mentally challenged community, reaching into hearts by sharing his love for his Savior.

Before Ed was put into a coma by the doctors to help him remain calm, he spoke to his mom and dad, “I’m okay,” he said. Ed is now more than okay. He is with the Lord and we can celebrate his life.

Since putting an entry about writing a eulogy, I’ve received many Google-type requests for scriptures to use in a eulogy.  Here are the ones which I like to use.  They are standard because they speak of the hope of the resurrection which has been promised to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The translation that we at Special Gathering use is The New Century Version.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We minister to people who are developmentally disabled but who have many of the same problems and concerns of any other adult.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are intellectually delayed.

In addition to these scripture, I also like to include Psalm 23 because of the great comfort it brings to the family and friends.

II Corinthians 5:1-5 and 9

We know that these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrections bodies in heaven–God-made, not homemade–and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.  Sometimes we can hardly wait to move–and so we cry out in frustration.  Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies!  The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead.  He puts a little of heaven in our harts so that we’ll never settle for less.

          But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

I Thessalonians 4:13-20

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those people who have died.  We don’t want you to be sad like other people–people who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died.  But we believe that Jesus rose again.  So, because of Jesus, God will bring together with Jesus those people who have died.  What we tell you now is the Lord’s own message.  We who are living now might still be living when the Lord comes again.  We who are living at that time will be with the Lord, but not before those people who have already died.  The Lord himself will come down from heaven. There will be a loud command.  The command will be given with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.  And the people who have died and were in Christ will rise first.  After that, we people who are still alive at that time will be gathered up with those people who have died.  We will be taken up in the clouds and meet the Lord in the air.  And we will be with the Lord forever.  So comfort each other with these words.

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. Find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both. 

 

God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.

 

 

If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument. 

 

 

Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together. 

 

Eulogy

Leslie Ann  

 

          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla. 

 

          Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers. 

 

          Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.

 

          Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier. 

 

          Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses.  She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.

 

          Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis. 

 

          “I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat. 

 

          Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.

 

          Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him. 

 

          Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling. 

 

          About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir.  Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.

 

          Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.

 

          One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.

 

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true

          Change my heart, Oh, God,

          May I be like you.

 

          You are the potter, I am the clay

          Mold me and make me.

          This is what I pray.

 

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true.

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          May I be like you

 

          As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)

 

          On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”

 

          Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”