Faith Matters: The American Funeral

Pastor Shawn Hannon
Contributing Writer Pastor Shawn Hannon

There’s a joke that goes: “A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. His friend says: “Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.” The man then “Yeah, well we were married 35 years.””

I often think about that joke when I find myself driving in funeral processions, and unfortunately it does not come to mind because I see people doing the most thoughtful and touching things I have ever seen. Very little awareness or respect remains for funeral processions today. I’ve seen things from blatant disregard for the procession to full on road rage.

And I do not think this is specifically about the procession. In general, American culture is moving away from a solemn and serious recognition of death. We’ve traded church sanctuaries and funeral homes for local restaurants and halls. We schedule it for weeks or months in advance so that the death is less of an interruption (as if we can actually control that). We gather around soda pop and pizza instead of the body of our loved one. If we do anything at all. We silence our grief in claims of pure celebration.

And what I notice is 2-3 years after a death many individuals are still deeply grieving it (or perhaps finally grieving it).

We are in a season of the church year where avoiding death is not so simple. As I write this, I still have ash under my fingernails left over from services where I reminded individuals from 2-96 years old that they were dust, mortal, and surely going to die. We’re headed to a Friday where death yet again will be undeniable as we remember our Lord’s crucifixion. And giving those realities voice and recognition doesn’t hurt us as we presume, but gives us hope and life.

I cannot change the tide of culture around the American funeral, so let me go back to where I started. Take off your cap for funeral processions. Pull over. Sit at green lights while a family burying their dead drives through the intersection. When you do, do not think about all the places you have to be, but for the family driving to the last place they want to go. Let death interrupt you and acknowledge it. And who knows, with a healthier and more respectful view of death and for those who grieve, you may be more ready when it happens to you.

For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

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Pastor Shawn Hannon
Pastor Shawn is a 2010 graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and he began his call at Hope Lutheran Church, Arcade NY that summer. While he spent four years learning and serving churches in South and North Carolina, as a Jamestown, NY native, Western New York has always been home. He is glad to be here. Pastor Shawn and his wife Carol Hannon met while attending SUNY Geneseo in the mid-2000s. They have enjoyed making their home together in Arcade with their daughters Quinn and Perry.   Pastor Shawn has a background in youth and outdoor ministry. He is a former camper and staff person at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center in Bemus Point, NY. He has also served camps in urban settings and oversees in Madagascar. In seminary he was recognized for gifts in Greek and New Testament, and in his senior year was recognized with awards in both Preaching and Biblical Studies. Pastor Shawn continues to emphasize the youth in his ministry, but not simply because they are the future church, but because they are the church of today.  He also enjoys working on service projects, and takes the role of planning meaningful and engaging worship seriously.  He loves helping people find ways to put their passion and energy to work making their community and other people’s worlds a better place. When he is not working at church, Shawn enjoys remodeling and construction projects around his family’s home.  But as busy as he gets, PS always has time for a quick nine (okay, 18) on the golf course. He enjoys playing sports of all kinds and fiddling with his guitar.