Cover Story

Speaking to mourners: The evolution of funeral sermons

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's On Death and Dying burst upon the world in 1968, hospital chaplains and those who trained pastoral counselors were among the first to endorse it. The psychological framing of death and dying with labels such as "denial" or "depression" was not a problem for pastoral counselors well accustomed to Carl Rogers.

Almost immediately after the publication of On Death and Dying, the pastoral care and counseling experts moved into the area of grief and loss. By the mid-1970s, works such as Death and Ministry: Pastoral Care of the Dying and the Bereaved, edited by Donald Bane, and Pastoral Care and Counseling in Grief and Separation, by Wayne Oates, showed how smoothly the basic framework of Kübler-Ross could be adopted by clergy.

Eventually, this perspective required a more sustained theological treatment, and the fine 1983 work by Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs, tried to provide this. Mitchell and Anderson began from the recognition that loss and grief had not been Christian topics, had in fact been ignored or denied in favor of a focus on death. Yet for them, "death is only one form of loss," and so following the lead of the death awareness movement and earlier pastoral care appropriations, they center on loss, offering both psychological and theological perspectives.