Brent Peterson on Presence

Jonathan K. Twitchell has provided a helpful resource for pastors in some of the most sacred moments of ministry, the death of loved ones. Within such precious and tender times, ministers sometimes feel a great sense of pressure to say and do the “right” things.  In a culture with mountains of information, pastors may feel obligated to answer the hard questions that come when persons are uniquely fixated on the frailty and mortality of their lives. Moreover, in many cases, theological questions arise out of tragedy’s pain.

Twitchell wonderfully reminds us in his book Presence: A Pastor’s Guide to Funerals that the most important thing pastors “do” during times of loss is to love through being present.  Twitchell creatively uses the power of narrative to remind all that a “guide to funerals” is not simply about “principles, tactics, strategies, and how to.” Bereavement ministry is always about people, each person unique, yet everyone loved by God and to be loved by the pastor.

Beyond simply whining about the changed landscape in regard to funerals, Twitchell offers some helpful advice for reclaiming the theological significance of the funeral in the life of the Church. Just as much of life has become highly individualized, this has also shaped contemporary practices in regard to death and funerals. In a culture that sanitizes death through removal and privatization, Twitchell offers a Christian pastoral theology for the significance of physical bodies in the life of the Church.

Not only does Twitchell cast a theological vision, he also offers some very practical helps that are guided and informed by theological reflection. From the caring for the body through the planning of the funeral to the graveside and beyond, there is helpful encouragement and wisdom within this book’s pages. Twitchell offers useful counsel when dealing with persons for whom “nothing good could be said.” He invites the reader to prepare for the unique context of each person and family while also being guided and anchored pastorally to minister with compassion and love rather than “pop-sentimentality.”

In a wonderful way, as an act of compassion, Twitchell reminds the reader the time of death for the Christian is ultimately about God. While this is not the time for manipulation, this is a time for the Christian minister to proclaim the good news in Jesus Christ and the hope that physical death is not the end.

I recommend this book to pastors who are looking for both a theological vision of bereavement care along with wisdom through the details of such compassion.

Rev. Brent D. Peterson, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology at Northwest Nazarene University
Author of Created to Worship: God’s Invitation to Become Fully Human