Granted, commandments do not stop people from sinning. But it would probably help if there is one commandment that forbids mourners from fighting for God’s attention every weekend.
Have you ever been at a funeral where different church denominations are in attendance? Have you noticed the competition? There will be a prison-rules lyrical contest as mourners try to get everyone else to sing their church’s devotional song. The quality of the song does not matter much; what matters is how loud the other congregation sings, and how many people they have convinced to sing their particular song. It often happens that those who lose the first round of the singing contest do not join in singing the other church’s song and wait for the next round to try their luck.
Throughout the mourning the week during evening prayers there would be sporadic battles for dominance. But the war reaches fever pitch on the eve of the funeral, during the night vigil. At this time there will be more mourners in attendance.
Today’s wakes being what they are, there is bound to be one or two well-oiled ‘mourners’ participating in the lyrical contest and doing their best to be disruptive. The ‘finals’ of this competition occur in the morning during the funeral proper, right from the home of the deceased to his/her last home.
Is this something that God would approve of?
“Certainly not,” says Pastor Percival Mtetwa of Community Empowerment Ministries who acknowledges having seen this contest play itself out. He is quick to add that his own church generally shuns such practice.
Mtetwa’s theory of why church members would duel at such an unlikely event in the manner they do is that each contestant would be trying to show some form of kinship with the deceased.
As a traditional leader and churchgoer, Kgosi Kgari Sechele III spends quite a bit of his weekend time attending funerals. He says that he is well aware of this contest but does not feel it has reached a point where traditional leadership has to step in and rein in the culprits.
“What I have seen happen is that those who are unsuccessful in getting their church song to be sung don’t persist but give up. I don’t think the issue requires our intervention because pastors who conduct the funeral services seem to handle it quite well,” Kgari says.
Mtetwa adds that in addition to pastors, masters of ceremony should also be prepared to deal with such situations when they arise.
The pastor who conducted the service at Kgosi Seepapitso’s funeral averted the problem by simply announcing the order of the songs that would be sung. She had taken care to be as inclusive as possible. However, there remains the question of whether this crisis management is necessary at all. Mtetwa says that the Ministers Fraternal, a confederation made up of all denominations, is the one best suited to address this problem and nip it in the bud.
The funeral lyrical contest is an extension of the messy and freakish nature of funerals. Former president Festus Mogae and the Botswana Society tried cautioning against lavish funerals. The public’s response was to make them even more lavish. Generally, the funeral spectacle seems to be more about the living competing amongst themselves than about honouring the deceased.