The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care: Some Initial Reflections
In 1993, I began in ministry as a presbyter within the British Methodist Church. Not least among the changes in attitudes and practices within church and society in the years since are those concerning death and dying. As the twenty-first century unfolded, for example, I became aware that funeral services were different from those with which I had been involved before. My training had prepared me to officiate at a rite of passage but, more often than not, families were not seeking traditional funerals but services of thanksgiving or memorial for their loved ones. A greater personalization was expected, emphasizing celebration of the individual life of the person rather than locating him or her within the wider ‘communion of saints’, and less about commending the dead to God to more of commending the living to God’s ongoing keeping and care. I responded to the pastoral needs of such changes as best I could, but felt the lack of a coherent theological foundation for them. I became aware that I was ministering in a situation which called for ‘new kinds of observance … a belief which links life to death’, so that ‘a great positive [may] come out of [the] great negative’ of dying,1 and that I was needing new theological expressions to support this taking place.