Monday, December 19, 2011

Hosting a Funeral Luncheon: A Detailed Plan

I present you with some confidence-building information on how to host a funeral luncheon, lest you chicken out of this undertaking and allow it to become a lost art. Which would be a shame because it is such an important way to minister to a grieving family.

Speaking from my small town Southern experience, the funeral luncheon can occur either before or after the funeral itself. Regardless of when it's scheduled, it's going to take the greater part of a day and be a draining (but satisfying) undertaking, so plan accordingly.

1. Cook the food. The day before, if possible. Choose something that can sit, is easy to warm up, can be served buffet-style, and that won't scare anyone. Lasagna-salad-French bread is a good configuration. Pork loin-mashed potato casserole-green beans-salad. Soy sauce chicken thighs-coconut rice-Asian slaw. The keynote is ease for the cook and ease for the guest.

In case there are vegetarians present, an easy bring-along option (you can eat it yourself later if it goes unneeded) is a simple cheese plate--a pear, some nice crackers, and half of a small Brie drizzled with warm raspberry jam and sprinkled with walnuts.

2. Prepare the tables. I would go to any lengths (including bringing china plates from home) to avoid paper plates and plastic silverware at bare tables. Most churches have some real tableware, and almost anything looks good if the tables are draped in colorful (for white plates) or plain white (for bright china) tablecloths. Mismatched silverware, folded paper napkins, and real glassware make the tables look inviting, and are available in most church kitchens, I would think.

Take care of the details for each table--salt & pepper, milk & sugar, butter--and decide whether the tables need or can even hold a little bit of decoration. Long rectangular tables tend to fill up quickly, and no decor is needed.

I think that beautiful, welcoming tables speak very clearly to the family that they are cared for, cherished, and worth serving.

3. Arrange the food service. The best plan is a buffet set up on a side table very close to the family seating. For sure, drape the table in a lovely cloth or two, and plan room for your serving dishes and pitchers of ice water or tea. Coffee service can also go here, or coffee cups can be set at the table, and you and your helpers can walk around with coffee to pour.

4. Serve the meal. Realize that this will work much better if you don't attend the service, but instead make things ready. Ideally you will have at least two competent helpers. Get the food heated up and maintain it at serving temperature--you never know how long it will take people to gather. Brew coffee, ice the glasses. As people settle in, invite them to collect a plate and help themselves to food. After they are all seated, you can walk around offering coffee (if you've worked in food service, or entertained large groups often, this will be old hat! I write for the rest of us).

As the meal progresses, make sure that coffee continues to flow, that water glasses are topped off, and that the food hasn't run low.

As people finish, you can begin clearing plates. I have my helpers do this while I remove the main course from the buffet table and bring out dessert. If it is tidy cake, have it cut into small slices ready for self-service. If it is messy, plate it yourself and leave the servings on the buffet table.

Remember that you are there to serve as a friend, but you aren't part of the family. On the other hand, don't get to thinking that you have to act like a waitress!

5. Clean up. Self-explanatory, I know. As an aside, it's really nice if there is enough food that you and your helpers can have a quick bite.

You will be tired, but it will be good.

My girls and I did all of this yesterday for Veda's family, and I am so glad we could.


Rachel said...

You. Are. Wonderful.

I make your recipes (all of them!), I read your quotes for inspiration, and I follow your you-make-it-so-easy plan for cleaning.

As a new pastor's wife with 8 children (ninth due in March), I find your tips, hints, calm demeanor, love of children, and love for others immensely helpful and encouraging.

I am saving this post, with all the rest. I should just print your whole blog!

Thank you again. I know your friend was blessed by your love, and I'm sure others were as well.

Lilian said...

I really feel that the best help to offer in times such as these are the practical ones, not grandiose gestures. Offers to help clean, serve food, tend to young children. Often done in the background, with no expectation of thanks or expressions of accolade that is so oft a requisite. Things that our God sees and will no doubt reward with a 'well done' when He returns. Thank you for the encouragement to take it on and the helpful pointers to make it flow well.

Kim said...

What a wonderful way to show love to your friend.

So glad it went well.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautiful and caring advise.


seashoreknits said...

Anna, thank you for this comprehensive and very helpful guide to a service-skill that is in such danger of being lost. I know in my own small church there are fewer and fewer ladies available to "carry on" these traditions, and yet, as you point out, it doesn't really take all that much to accomplish. The love that is given in this type of ministry - and the love that is received - is very special.
May God bless Veda's family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I have prayed for Veda and her family.

May God give her family and friends comfort and peace.

Barb in Nebraska

Farrah said...

This is an excellent post. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. I had been wondering about Miss Veda and hoping she wouldn't pass on Jesus' birthday. Prayers for the family.

Anonymous said...

I love this. Mary Brooke

Kristen said...

Thank you for the thoughtful tips. I guess we never know when we might be called to serve in this way.

Shelley said...

My favourite Aunt Rita died unexpectedly in 2007 and we flew to Oklahoma City for her funeral. The funeral luncheon was at the Catholic church she had joined after marrying her Catholic husband. The ladies from the church told me they'd always used disposable plates until Rita got involved and insisted that grieving families deserved better. They changed their tradition. We were eating on lovely china plates. Made me even prouder of Rita than I already was. Having a place to tell the world about Rita and Mom and others was a big drive for starting my blog.

Tracey said...

A wonderful way to help a family who is in need. I'm sure it was a beautiful way for the family to wind down and thank all those who could attend. Thank you for the blessing of this endeavor.

Laura {{* *}} said...

This is a timely, caring, and thoughtful post.

That our hands must find such work
is a testament
to God's idea for
serving others.

Thank you, Anna.

{{* *}}

Angela said...

Thank you for your very practical and helpful ideas. I know that your friend's family, as well as you and your own girls, were blessed by your service.

Margo said...

Anna, what a lovely, helpful, wise post. Thank you. You get to the core of things in a way most people don't.

LaniQ said...

I am one of Veda's granddaughter's and could not make it out from Maine to go, but I want to thank you for ministering to my precious family in that way. The love and prayers and service have been so overwhelmingly wonderful. It is well with my soul as well.

Rebecca said...

Thank you! In a time when simple, domestic service seems beyond so many of us, your words are an encouragement and a gentle spur.

Rose said...

An excellent post Anna, the method for approaching clearing and serving is great!

Here in Australia post-funeral gatherings tend to be "bring a plate" which means that each person close to the family brings a plate of finger food -- small nibbles, sandwiches -- things that can be eaten while standing and talking.

Those close to the family take on the serving and clearing roles. We tend not to sit down or have a full meal but, like the gesture you suggest, it's a time for friends to come forward.

Anna said...

Thanks for such a detailed post!
My sister and I have often marveled at how no one seems to know how to do these things anymore. Our mom worked long, long hours, and while we had to figure out a lot of things on our own, hostessing was one thing she modeled for us (and made us help with). Neither of us have your level of skill yet, but we so appreciate knowing how to host a gathering and how to minister to others through it. Thanks again for your beautiful blog!

Audrey said...

How lovely and although we know most of this is is so nice to be reminded of the little things. Can you share the hymns that the Composer played at her service?

Janel said...

Great advice. So sorry to hear of your loss.

Heather said...

Anna - this post brought back so many wonderful memories of my life as 'the pastor's wife'. This was one of my favorite ministries, just quietly behind the scenes serving food to those who were grieving. Our present church doesn't have the an adequate fellowship hall so most funerals are held at the funeral home. It's a shame.
Your 'confidence-building information' is wonderful! It was always very tiring, but such a blessing. I do believe it is becoming a lost art - so often the families are robbed of the 'closure' a funeral meal provides. I have often heard precious memories and gentle, healing laughter shared around the tables at a luncheon.
I've used most of your menu suggestions in the past with good success. I would also suggest glazed ham - baked beans - scalloped potatoes - cole slaw as another 'most requested' menu, and for those striving for a light and economical meal - homemade soups, salad and fresh bread. Pie was always the most requested dessert, but sheet cakes were also popular.

I once inadvertently caused a terrible ruckus at a funeral luncheon - I served a moist delicious chocolate cake that *happened* to be chucked full of finely grated zucchini. The grieving son ate with zest until he spotted the offending green speck in his third piece, at which point he loudly declared his grave aversion to any and all vegetables. He was outraged to be 'duped' into eating zucchini! I had no idea, but my embarrassment was complete. After that I used pretty place cards and labeled everything I set out on the buffet! Everything.

Anonymous said...

I love this. Sadly my husband is too disabled for us to travel to most out-of-town funerals, we have been blessed to have some wonderful food delivered to our family after the loss of a loved one. It is such a wonderful blessing to have the food prepared and delivered/served with care, regardless of the setting.

Your gentle comfort in a time of need, and your inspiration to others is such a blessing.

Ruth said...

God bless you Anna.

I am praying for you and for Veda's family.

Sara Welsh said...

My friend is dealing with the loss of her grandmother, and she's been asked to take care of the funeral home and luncheon. Personally, I feel there are wonderful suggestions in this post about how to make an easy luncheon a success. I will definitely be passing this information on to her.
Sara Welsh |

Polly said...

A neighbor's mother is in the last days of Alzheimer's so I am thinking of post-funeral arrangements now. I wonder about this: is the funeral luncheon *only* for the family (in your experience)? We had a sort of dinner at the church after my mother died--her funeral was at 3 pm so that her colleagues from the school where she taught could attend--but it seemed that everyone attended it, not just our family members. It was enormous! So it was more potluck, post-church style, without place settings and with a lot of covered dish casserole type foods. I am not sure if this is a geographic thing (we too are rural, small-town south, but rather far from your small town south) or just a My Church thing, and the rest of the world does something completely different. Or perhaps it was a My Mom thing, as I've not attended many funerals since then.

Anna said...

Polly, in my area it really is just for family. Even so, the group can get large fast--last time we served about fifty people. In my experience, relatives (of really any degree) expect to stay, and non-relatives do not.

Julie Myers said...

My family is planning the funeral for my grandmother, who just passed away. We are having a hard time knowing what to do for the luncheon. You have some fantastic suggestions here, especially in your suggestion to set most things up the day before. I am sure that this takes away quite a bit of the stress. I think that instead of asking everyone in my family to bring food, it might be better for us to have a catering service of some kind come in and do the food for us so that we don't have to worry about it! Thanks for your ideas!

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