Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Riddle and Mystery: A Program on the Big Questions for Grade 6

Alternate Activity 5: Death and Your Congregation

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Orders of service for funerals or memorials recently held in your congregation
  • Obituaries or newspaper articles about congregational members and friends who have recently died
  • Unitarian Universalist books or pamphlets about death
  • Congregational hymnbooks

Preparation for Activity

  • Optional: Obtain and copy recent orders of service for congregational funerals or memorial services.
  • Optional: Obtain copies of obituaries of or articles about recently deceased congregational members and friends.
  • Optional: Find out about congregational places and items associated with death, such as a memorial garden, a cemetery or a wall with memorial plaques. Determine whether the youth can tour any of these places or see the items during the session or at another time, and make the arrangements.
  • Optional: Invite someone in your congregation whose work involves death to join the group for this activity, such as a hospice nurse, an oncologist, a firefighter or EMT, a minister or a psychological counselor. If such a guest is coming, tell the youth in advance and give them a chance to ask you questions about the person's work and think of some questions they may wish to ask.

Description of Activity

Help the group explore and understand the "death culture" of your congregation by investigating the physical spaces and mementos, funeral and memorial practices and recent history of the congregation with regard to deaths in the community.

Possibilities include:

  • Tour the congregation's cemetery or memorial garden
  • Share and discuss orders of service and obituaries associated with recent deaths in the congregational community
  • Find out about the individuals commemorated on memorial plaques in your congregation's building
  • Read and discuss Unitarian Universalist pamphlets and other materials about death made available by the congregation for members and friends
  • Invite an adult from the congregation to talk with the youth about the rituals used to mark a recent death in the congregational community. (The adult need not be a close relative of someone who has recently died, but should be someone who knew and cared about the deceased person.)

It is of course important for leaders conducting this activity to be very sensitive to participant experiences with death, especially recent ones.

Youth might benefit from hearing about the differences between traditional funeral services and the memorial services more typically held in UU congregations. Traditional funerals are often designed around traditional rituals of the dead person's religion, such as readings from Christian or Jewish scripture or performances of special music. The body of the deceased may be present in a casket. The casket might be open or closed. Memorial services typically focus on the life of the person who has died. Family members and friends may speak. Readings and music can be just about anything that was meaningful to the deceased and remains meaningful to survivors. Laughter is less likely to be heard at a funeral than at a memorial service, where people often tell stories about the dead person in order to celebrate their life.

If you want a minister, a hospice nurse, a doctor, or another congregational member familiar with death to join the group, choose someone with experience and comfort working with sixth graders. When you introduce the guest, tell the youth that you have invited them because they encounter death regularly in their work and are here to give participants a chance to ask any questions they may have about death.