On September 29, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history, died at the age of 90. Senator Feinstein was a trailblazing politician who had also served as the first female mayor of San Francisco. With the news of her passing, tributes poured in from around the country and the world, and from both Democrats and Republicans.
As the nation commemorates Senator Feinstein’s remarkable political life, theologian and historian Dorothy Bass helps us understand that for Christians, part of a good life is dying well. Dying well is not about wishing away the harsh and painful realities associated with death. Dying well is rooted in the fundamental theological conviction that the grave is not our final destination.
Bass suggests that dying well is about translating our beliefs in the resurrection into concrete acts of love and care for one another. Faith does not take away the struggle and grief that we associate with death. Faith teaches us to integrate lament and hope through rituals, songs, prayers and worship. Bass also makes it abundantly clear that dying well means not dying alone. Even at the end of our lives, we are in community with one another and with God.
What practices guide your congregation’s rituals of care for members who are dying? Dying well involves more than hospice and funerals. Like all the practices Bass highlights on PracticingOurFaith.org, wisdom about dying well is meant to be woven into the life of the church’s ministry. What do we say about All Saints’ Day? How do we incorporate biblical wisdom regarding death and resurrection into our baptisms, sermons and prayers? As you and your congregation reflect on what dying well means within the Christian context, you may find the questions raised by Practicing Our Faith to be helpful as a framework for fruitful conversation.
A death doula trained to help people who are dying and grieving drew upon the Black church tradition of “tarrying” during the pandemic.
By Wylin D. Wilson
Bethel AME Church in Boston helps members plan for the end of their lives with a three-part program that is practical and spiritual. The ministry is in keeping with the church’s focus on health and wellness.By Phillip Martin
In her book, “Dessert First,” an author and former “death chaplain” encourages people to prepare for the practical parts of death.
Q&A with J. Dana Trent
Before you go…
One of the realities of pastoral ministry is that the longer we do this work, the closer we are to the people in our congregations who die. I can name names. I can see faces. I can remember stories. I once checked into a hotel and the clerk reminded me that I had preached her aunt’s funeral. We had a good conversation about the memories of a beautiful human being. As we spend more and more years in congregational ministry, we develop emotional bonds and close relationships that make it more likely for us to experience each funeral in a deeply personal way.
Dorothy Bass offers us much-needed wisdom. Death and dying do not need to be taboo topics for people who believe in the resurrection. We can rejoice in life and support one another in death because nothing will separate us from the love of Christ — not even death.
You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at email@example.com. Until next week, keep leading!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity