In St. Louis, a luncheon and all-games party was held in memory of a recently deceased person. Proceeds went to a medical center in California that does research in cancer and heart diseases. At a funeral home in St. Louis, mourners—some wearing mod clothes and wild colors—discussed the stock market. Even at small-town funerals, visitors chatter about relatives and movies and television as if they had just met at the grocery store.

Funerals are attended by fewer people today, says Elwyn Gipson of the National Selected Morticians, and they are becoming depersonalized and shorter. He adds another observation: “Modern ministers are more concerned with comforting the family than with preaching the Gospel.”

A reader writes Ann Landers: “In the large city where I live, a funeral procession passes our office almost every day. I have seen small children make faces at the mourners in the cars. I have seen impatient motorists honk their horns and cut in front of a hearse. No respect. No consideration. No kindness. Are people changing?”

A year-long survey of 3,500 undertakers showed that many Americans are changing their attitude toward funerals. The traditional funeral with public viewing of the body still prevails in rural areas, particularly in the Midwest and the South. But in East and West Coast metropolitan areas, many consider the funeral only a utilitarian necessity and are moving toward simpler, non-religious, and less expensive funerals.

Who is at fault for this secular trend? It is easy to blame “the times,” perhaps correctly. And many blame the morticians.

But I am going to make a bold alternative suggestion: Too many of us who are ministers have retreated from the true function of a Christian funeral, content to go along with ...

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