Planning Your Funeral Music Could Be Fun!

by Anthony Antolini, Music Director
St. John Baptist, Thomaston
originally published in the October 2015 edition of The Antiphon, St. John’s monthly newsletter

antoliniWe’ve had a remarkable number of parishioners pass away in recent months. I cannot remember a time when I’ve played so many funerals in close succession. All this has reminded us of the importance of filling out the Funeral Wishes form. Without this form, the family, Fr. Peter, and I have to guess what hymns and organ voluntaries would be appropriate for the departed. You know much better than we what you’d like, so please fill out the form! To make the chore less daunting I’ve decided to devote this month’s column to some observations that may help you with your decisions.

First, let’s agree that making these decisions is a lot more entertaining than writing a will. And yet it’s a kind of will because we have in writing what you think a proper funeral would be for you. Secondly, bear in mind that you can update the form if you change your mind. So, let’s get started.

Funerals don’t need to be lugubrious. Choosing hymns you don’t like to sing because they’re somber is clearly a mistake. So perhaps the first thing to do is to make a list of your favorite hymns. Some may be able to do this by memory. Others may need to borrow a hymnal and look through the Index of First Lines (page 954 and following) for ideas.

Don’t leave your family and friends out of this process! Picture that they will be the ones who sing and listen to the music you choose. They may have favorites that would mean a great deal to them at the time of your memorial. Another approach might be to share your completed Funeral Wishes form with them before handing it in at the office. They may have other ideas to suggest or opinions you need to know about.

The Hymnal 1982 has hymns categorized by topic. A short section is entitled “Burial” and is not where I’d suggest you start. It begins with Hymn #354 “Into paradise may angels lead you.” This is a lovely plainsong translated from the Latin In paradisum deducant angeli. In my nearly twenty-five years at St. John’s we’ve never sung it. Unless you love Gregorian chant or are a choral musician, it’s unlikely such a hymn would appeal to you. And here we see another important consideration:

Don’t choose hymns for your funeral that nobody has ever heard before! Those who attend your service won’t sing them.

Occasionally, people want the Commendation (Give rest, O Christ, to your servant…”) chanted. This beautiful Kievan chant is Hymn #355. The words are in the Book of Common Prayer and are usually read by the priest. But if chanted, the melody is from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Service and is usually sung by a choir in four parts. At St. John’s I usually chant it alone. An interesting alternative to this is Hymn #358 – a rhymed version of the Commendation Prayer set to the familiar tune “Russia.” Most people know this tune to the words “God the Omnipotent” (Hymn #569). Somebody ought to try this!

For one funeral this summer (where Peter and I had to choose the music) I decided to sing an unaccompanied song that is in the hymnal but seldom sung: It’s Hymn #692 “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest.’” The melody is familiar to classical music lovers from the orchestral piece Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The words of the hymn are by Horatius Bonar and have no connection to the melody by Thomas Tallis, but they fit a funeral beautifully.

Here are some hymns from the Hymnal 1982 that are frequently sung at funerals. Though not in the “Burial” section of the hymnal they are very suitable:

Hymn #208 “Alleluia! The strife is o’er, the battle done” (Easter)

Hymn #287 “For all the saints, who from their labors rest” (All Saints)

Hymn #410 “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven”

Hymn #508 “Breathe on me, breath of God” (Frequently sung at confirmation.)

Hymn #517 “How lovely is thy dwelling place” (Psalm 84 paraphrased)

Hymn #645 or #646 “The King of love my shepherd is” (Psalm 23 paraphrased)

Hymn #655 “O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end”

Hymn #657 “Love divine, all loves excelling”

Hymn #680 “O God our help in ages past” (Psalm 90 paraphrased)

Hymn #376 “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” (Hymn to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th)

There are also some appropriate hymns to consider in the green hymnal, Wonder, Love & Praise (WLP):

WLP #810 “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord” (AKA “On eagle’s wings.”)

WLP #811 “You shall cross the barren desert”

And the black, red and green hymnal, Lift Every Voice & Sing (LEVAS) has some stirring hymns from the African-American tradition. Here are some favorites:

LEVAS #60 “How great thou art”

LEVAS #103 “Steal away to Jesus”

LEVAS #106 “Precious Lord, take my hand”

LEVAS #181 “Amazing Grace”

Of course, those who do fill out the Funeral Wishes form sometimes do request hymns that strike the rest of us as dated or even unpopular. A recent funeral featured two hymns that I’ve been told by other members of the congregation never to play! They are “Onward, Christian soldiers” and “Rock of Ages.” A funeral is a special occasion and if the departed wanted them, we sing them!

Other musical parts of the service offer an opportunity to include music that isn’t in the hymnal but may be a personal favorite. These are the prelude and the postlude, played on the organ. Since Fr. Peter began promoting the Funeral Wishes form I’ve deliberately played several pieces that are excellent choices for these parts of the service. Here is a brief list of such music:

J.S. Bach: Jesu, joy of man’s desiring

Jean Sibelius: Theme from Finlandia

Antonin Dvorák: Theme from New World Symphony (“Going home”)

Gabriel Fauré: Pie Jesu from Requiem

Johannes Brahms: O world, I must now leave thee

Georg Frederick Handel: Come unto Him from Messiah

Domenico Zipoli: Festival Postlude

Perhaps you have a favorite composer but can’t think of what he/she wrote that would work well on the organ. That’s not a problem! Just list the composer’s name on the form and I’ll try to find something by that composer that would fit a prelude or a postlude.

Funny things do happen with regard to funeral music, usually unintentionally. One family requested the mardi gras tune “When the saints go marching in” as a postlude. I didn’t feel it was something that would turn out particularly well on the organ so I used the melody in an improvisation that led into Brahms’s “O world, I must now leave thee.” No one complained.

One “Funeral Wishes” form specified a piece of music that required a concerto for orchestra and harp soloist. The funeral was in a matter of days. There was no budget for an orchestra or harpist. I played something else by the composer of the requested concerto.

In planning your funeral music please try to be practical and realize that your music director often has to put this service together in just a few days. If in doubt about something, let’s chat about it. I welcome such discussions and would enjoy talking to you about your wishes. I’ll play pieces that you think you’d like to include. We might come up with a really splendid service!

Finally, if you’d rather not deal with details, please just write on the Funeral Wishes form what you really don’t want and then state, “Let the music director decide.” When Yogi Berra was asked what his burial wishes were, he replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you surprise me?”

Some sample funeral planning forms:
St. John Baptist, Thomaston
Trinity Church, Castine


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The Liberating (and Challenging) Love of God

Mary Lee and the Presiding Bishop after the installation.

by the Rev. Mary Lee Wile, Deacon
St. Paul’s, Brunswick

My very first auditory memory involves lying on the wooden pew in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, listening to the sound of the liturgy wash over me. I’ve spent my life as an Episcopalian, and now serve as a deacon here in our diocese, so you’d think I would have a pretty good sense of what the Episcopal Church is all about.

But I have to admit that my understanding has been stretched and liberated and challenged and energized, first though taking part in General Convention this summer, and then by attending the recent Installation of Michael Curry as our 27th Presiding Bishop. In his sermon at the National Cathedral, Bishop Curry said: “God has not given up on the world, and God is not finished with the Episcopal Church.” I would add that he made it clear that God is not finished with any of us as individuals, either.

The comfortable, crowded suburban church of my childhood gave me a solid grounding. I think of my participation in that church as a safe, meandering journey to the center of a labyrinth. Standing in the line that wrapped itself around the National Cathedral on the morning of the Installation, I thought again of that image of a labyrinth, this time with the Installation itself as the center – the centerpiece – before we would all head back out into our own separate lives, challenged and changed. To mix metaphors, the Cathedral breathed us in, held us, and breathed us out again.

Some of the 155 bishops of The Episcopal Church process into Washington National Cathedral Nov. 1 at the start of the Eucharist that included the installation of Michael B. Curry as The Episcopal Church’s 27th presiding bishop and its primate. Photo: Danielle Thomas (c) 2015 Washington National Cathedral
Some of the 155 bishops process into Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Danielle Thomas (c) 2015 Washington National Cathedral

What was so exciting was knowing, even as it was happening, that in that center, in that held breath, the Episcopal Church was being reborn. As Bishop Curry said, “The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st Century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.”

That was his challenge. That is our call: of course to stay grounded in this Church that we love, but to take our love of God and our decision to follow Jesus out into “the sanctuary of the streets.” He spoke with passionate eloquence about evangelism — not a comfortable word for a lot of Episcopalians, he admitted, but an evangelism that involves “sharing good news…deeply grounded in the love of God…listening and learning…helping others find their way to a relationship with God without trying to control the outcome.”  In other words, we’re not to try to “catch” or “create” more Episcopalians, but to follow Jesus and serve our neighbor, and leave the rest to God.

I loved being there, surrounded by thousands of Episcopalians as well as ecumenical and interfaith leaders (and members of the press, hanging over high balconies), singing together, praying together, and sensing a seismic shift as this extroverted, passionate, evangelical bishop became our 27th Presiding Bishop. As a deacon, I’d been delighted by his focus on the word “GO!” in his sermon at General Convention, his injunction to go into the world beyond our red doors to share our good news and take compassionate action. With the Most Rev. Michael Curry as our leader, our encourager, our role model, more of us might just do that.

(And that’s what he and I were talking about after the service – “go” – be willing to make the journey out of the labyrinth – go out and share the good news. – And in case you can’t tell, I think Michael Curry’s leadership of the Episcopal Church is good news, indeed!)

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Maine Episcopal Network for Justice: How did we get here?

by Heidi Shott
Canon for Communication and Advocacy
Episcopal Diocese of Maine

MENJ Director John Hennessy (Photo by Jeff Kirlin)
MENJ Director John Hennessy
(Photo by Jeff Kirlin)

Last week at our 196th annual diocesan convention, we announced the news that the Diocese of Maine will receive a $30,000 grant from The Episcopal Church to launch the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice (MENJ). Those funds will be combined with $8,000 from the 2016 diocesan budget to hire John Hennessy, a member of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, as the part-time director of MENJ. John has vast experience in advocacy work in Maine, most recently as the policy director of Maine AARP, as well as strong relationships with leaders in Augusta and Washington, D.C.

“I am excited to help lead the MENJ as we engage people of faith throughout the diocese to talk about and work on the important public policy issues of the day. Maine Episcopalians are uniquely positioned to make impact with both our citizen legislature in the state as well as our very accessible federal delegation,” he said upon learning of the award.

In making this grant, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which runs the Episcopal Public Policy Network, has shown confidence that the Diocese of Maine is well-suited to lead the way for other dioceses in the creation of a grassroots network that helps Episcopalians exercise voices of faith about issues of urgent concern in our communities, our state, our nation, and our world.

At this point you may be asking, like the Talking Heads’ lead singer David Byrne, “Well, how did we get here?”

David Byrne c. 1983

Last December Diocesan Council created a Public Policy Advisory Group to assist in deciding which issues – among the many that come across our desks – the Diocese of Maine should take on in a meaningful and sustained way.

Over the past seven years Bishop Lane and I have enjoyed a great working relationship around public policy and advocacy. It usually involves me bursting into his office in a pique of enthusiasm and asking, “Hey, are you busy? May I ask you something? Should stick our noses in this [current] issue?” Or he will shoot an email or text to me about a timely subject and say, “I think we need to do something about this.” We use as our guide two measures: issues we know about something about – we’re not policy wonks – and the Gospel imperatives laid out in Matthew 25:

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the kind will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the lease of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

That’s pretty clear, right? Poverty, hunger, and housing, refugees and asylum seekers, healthcare, restorative justice, and giving voice to our vulnerable neighbors whose voices often go unheard. It’s easy to hear the echoes of the prophet Micah to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly” with our God.

Forming an advisory group made sense. But here’s the truth, the group we pulled together has had exactly one meeting and that was a conference call. However, during that one conversation last February, the idea for a statewide Episcopal public policy network emerged.

The point is that unless our advocacy around issues we people of faith care about has both a focused legislative effort and a life as a local, grassroots movement, then we are not doing all the work we should to engage the people in our congregations in matters of justice.

So I started to roll the idea around in my mind about what such a network might look like. How could we possibly pull it off when I would be the only staff person and I already have a full-time job? Also, I was starting my sabbatical in a few months. Arrrgghh! How could we possibly put this on the back burner until September?

A week before my sabbatical began, I called the Social Justice Missioner at The Episcopal Church, Chuck Wynder, to ask for help. He was very supportive and enthusiastic about the idea and said he was already speaking to bishops in other dioceses about statewide public policy networks. However, he said, networks are hard to pull together because many of the dioceses that want to do create one are in states where there are multiple dioceses. The rub: to create an effective statewide network means all the dioceses have to work together.

“We don’t have that problem in Maine,” I assured him. “Our state and our diocese are one and the same.”

And then he told me the staggering news that caused me to practically fall out of my chair. “We have grants available to help you fund it; up to $30,000 a year, renewable for up to three years.”

I immediately called John Hennessy, a member of the Public Policy Task Force. Earlier in the spring Bishop Lane and I had asked John to step in as a consultant during my sabbatical to assist the Bishop in following several issues that we were tracking, including the state budget process and various bills still in play in the Legislature.

“John, there’s money to do this thing!” I think I said – loudly. “A lot.” I asked him to be in touch with Chuck to find out about the application process while I was away. I would be stepping out of sabbatical to return to work during the ten days of General Convention in Salt Lake City, so I asked him to check back in with me in late June.

I was sitting in the quiet press room in the vast Salt Palace Convention Center when John’s email complete with a well-crafted draft of a grant application arrived. A little yelp of happiness escaped my lips. I turned to some of my bemused communicator colleagues sitting nearby and whispered, “I think I might cry.”

This fall John and I buffed up the grant app and asked the Finance Committee and Council to consider upping the Advocacy budget line for 2016 by $8,000 to prove to The Episcopal Church that Maine has skin in the game. Bishop Lane contacted the bishops of Vermont and New Hampshire to see if they would be interested if Maine was to expand its network in the second year of the grant to include their dioceses. Bishop Ely of Vermont and Bishop Hirschfeld of New Hampshire responded with enthusiasm and are waiting to learn how things go in the first six months. 

So here we are: ready to engage the members of the Public Policy Task Force and, with the addition of a few people with various types of expertise, turn it into a MENJ Steering Group. We have our first meeting with Bishop Lane next week. John says it well: “We need to be strategic in our work and recognize where our leadership, our voices and our actions will make a difference. We can’t be everything to everybody but we can certainly do our best to make (progressive) voices of faith part of the civil discourse.”

Together, with John taking the lead, we will venture into new territory with two major goals ahead of us: maintaining a strong advocacy presence in Augusta while nurturing partnerships with other denominations and organizations that hold the same values as the Episcopal Church, and building local networks of people in our congregations empowered to give voice to their faith by learning to advocate for Gospel issues of local, state, national, and international concern.

Stay-tuned, there’s more to come. Lot’s more!

Join the MENJ group on Facebook for news, updates, and ways to connect.

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Jubilee Ministry – A Primer

Jubilee window at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Lewistown, Pennsylvania

Jubilee window at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Lewistown, Pennsylvania

By Rev. Shirley Bowen, Executive Director/Chaplain
Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Biddeford

During last week’s Diocesan Convention a great question was asked from the floor, and from several individuals along the way, “What are the Jubilee Centers?”

Could you answer the question?

Did you know we have three in the Diocese of Maine?

Here is a brief primer to bring everyone up to speed on one of the many varieties of ministry happening in our state.

Jubilee Ministries are one of several ministries that fall under Domestic Poverty Initiatives, which are part of Justice and Advocacy Ministries of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Approved by General Convention in 1982 and establishing eight Jubilee Ministry sites in 1983, the Jubilee movement has now grown to more than 600 ministries.

Resolution A080, which established Jubilee Ministry, did so as “a ministry of joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people, wherever they are found, to meet basic human needs and to build a just society,” concluding that this “is at the heart of the mission of the church.” (TEC website, “30 Years of Jubilee Ministry”).

Although funding for Jubilee ministries at the national level has declined, there is still the opportunity to receive small grants (Seeds of Hope received one in 2015) and to receive support and encouragement from TEC staff. The Jubilee Ministry of the Episcopal Church Facebook page helps our ministries share our stories, programs, and dreams for a more just nation.

Maine has three Jubilee sites: Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford, and St. Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center in Portland.

Trinity Jubilee Center’s founder and ministry partner Trinity Church donates its entire ground floor to TJC ministry serving a diverse underserved population by providing day shelter, hot meals, health clinic, food pantry, Resource center, and Refugee Services. TJC’s long-time benefactors are Christ Church in Exeter, New Hampshire and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut. Local Episcopal and Protestant churches, Bates College, St. Mary’s and CMMC hospitals all provide regular donations of food and funds. Program funding is provided by corporate, governmental, and charitable grants and individual gifts.

Seeds of Hope, also a Mission Enterprise Zone of TEC, partners with five southern Maine Episcopal congregations and three other community churches to serve its community’s unemployed/underemployed, variously-disabled residents, seniors on fixed incomes and recently incarcerated. We offer breakfast/lunch, free clothing, educational programs, warming and cooling center, free flu shots and health clinics, non-food essentials pantry, and a staffed Career Resource Center. Primary funding is from local businesses, city and federal government, service organizations, foundations and individuals.

St. Elizabeth’s is hosted by the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and supported by eight area Episcopal congregations. Offering non-food items that are not covered by food stamps yet are very costly to a family’s budget, free clothing, back to school back-packs and resource referrals, St. Elizabeth’s serves a very diverse clientele and receives additional outside funding through grants and gifts.

All three operate on the foundational principles of mercy and justice – meeting immediate need when possible and striving to help break barriers that contribute to poverty, isolation and despair. The common element in each of these ministries is the forging of community that is counter-cultural: the commitment to building relationships with those we serve so that our work is a shared partnership of mutual respect and dignity. Our work is along-side the poor, not to or for the poor. Our commitment of seeking and serving Christ in all people compels us to welcome all manner of stranger until there are no more strangers.

In her 2010 address to the “Called to Serve” Domestic Poverty Conference, the Presiding Bishop stated, “We’re here to do justice, and love mercy. We’re here to walk humbly with God and bring good news to the poor. That good news of justice and mercy looks like the ancient visions of the commonweal of God where everyone has enough to eat, no one goes thirsty or homeless, all have access to meaningful employment and health care, the wealthy and powerful do not exploit the weak, and no one studies war any more. It includes the work of building community and caring for the earth, both of which are essential to the health of a spiritually rooted person, in right relationship with God and neighbor.”  (TEC website, “Called to Serve”)

Maine’s Jubilee Ministry Centers were initiated as an outpouring of compassion of Episcopal parishes for the communities they serve. They are a positive reflection of the Baptismal Covenant which grounds our Church and calls us to action. We invite you to get to know us better. We would love to hear from you.

Each Jubilee ministry site is very different in the programs and services offered, basing its work on the needs of the surrounding community. I encourage you to check out the websites and other social media locations for each of these important efforts. 

If you would like to take a look at what Jubilee Centers are doing across the country, check out the links below:

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Filed under Diocesan Life, Ministry and Outreach, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Social Justice

Fall Back with Hospitality

by Lisa Meeder Turnbull
Diocesan Stewardship Consultant

Like all good things, the gift of “an extra hour” raises a fundamental question of stewardship: How will we spend it?

Many of us, of course, will take advantage of some extra sleep, or maybe indulge in staying up late on Saturday night. Inevitably, and no matter how well we plan our clock changes, there will be those who arrive early for morning services.

Why not make this an opportunity for moments of grace?

  • Recruit a few greeters to intentionally arrive early, prepared to spend time with early comers. This isn’t just for newcomers or recent members; long-time members and life-long friends enjoy unhurried conversation, too.
  • Invite! If you are one who arrives early for Altar Guild, Coffee Hour hosting, or Church School, invite the early comers to keep you company, pitch in, and be a part of things. You might find new gifts in your midst!
  • Create a small chapel space. Some early comers might appreciate an unexpected time of quiet, prayer, and reflection.
  • Plan into it. For the last month or so members of my congregation have been writing favorite hymns on a list posted to the bulletin board. We’ll use our “bonus time” for a half-hour hymn sing before the service begins.

What else might our congregations do with an extra hour? How might we fall back with hospitality? Share your thoughts in the comments below—let’s see how creative we can be with this gift of time!

Questions for Lisa about your church and stewardship? Please be in touch with her at

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Bishop Steve’s welcome to Convention: “This will be a good time.”

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Filed under Diocesan Convention, Diocesan Life, From the Bishop, St. Luke's Cathedral

Reimagining wealth

In his sermon at Good Shepherd, Houlton, on Sunday Bishop Steve Lane preached on the rich young man who decides he can’t give up his wealth and status to follow Jesus. He had this, in part, to say:

The real issue here may be that we are dealing with very different definitions of wealth. For the rich man and for the disciples, material wealth and security is what it’s all about. And treating your neighbor fairly. For Jesus, wealth is being surrounded by one’s brothers and sisters secure in God’s love and willing to give fully of oneself for the sake of another. That’s what the kingdom of God is all about. That is the vision of true wealth Jesus is offering.

Read it all here.

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