In a recent interview, Wayne Smith said he had a confession to make.
“I didn’t ever like weddings,” he said. “I can tell you that now because I’m retired.”
Too much chaos is involved in nuptials, he said, like photographers standing on the communion table, “poor little children” crying in their fancy clothes, brides disappearing to go pick greenery for their bouquets.
Funerals, though, were another matter.
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“I just really put myself into it,” Smith said. “A funeral sermon is a memorial to that individual.”
One of Smith’s most recent projects is a book of funeral sermons he delivered during his ministry of more than 40 years at Southland Christian Church.
Smith, who is convalescing from a recent hip fracture and ensuing complications, said in an interview prior to his hospitalization that he was inspired to publish the book as an aide to preachers.
Younger ministers might struggle with knowing precisely what to say to a grieving family, but older ones tend to use the same material again and again, he said.
With help from his longtime friend and fellow retired preacher Chuck Lees, Smith compiled 13 funeral sermons, all written for people he knew well, along with an explanation of the outlines he used, a section of funeral-appropriate poetry and some Bible verses that work well for eulogies.
Smith began mailing free copies of the spiral-bound book Funeral Messages to all the preachers he knew, and he offered to send them to any other preacher who wanted one.
Several evangelists decided they needed more than one.
“I just immediately got orders coming in,” Smith said. “It was sort of a niche that no one had written about.”
Phil LaMaster, who works in a preacher-to-preacher ministry called Living Hope in Indiana, ordered copies to distribute at conferences.
“I don’t think anyone can train you to be prepared for broken hearts,” LaMaster said. “We need the expertise of heartfelt people who’ve been there.
“Wayne’s word crafting, it just offers comfort.”
Smith estimated that he preached more than 1,000 funerals during his career, and he said he usually began by sitting down with the family around the kitchen table to learn as much about the deceased person as possible.
Ronnie Hupp, a minister who works for Kerr Brothers Funeral Home, said he has learned to do the same. In preparing to preach a funeral, he said he asks families a series of questions about everything from the person’s educational background to what they liked to eat. That allows him to begin crafting a message that reflects who the person truly was, even though he usually has never met the person.
“I’m a story person. I like to tell stories,” Hupp said.
Along the way, Hupp said he tries to build a relationship with the family through friendship.
“People get to talking,” he said. “They’ll laugh and they’ll remember and they’ll cry.”
Hupp said he had a good mentor whose style he learned to emulate. It was none other than Wayne Smith.