Friday, May 1, 2015 – A Tanzanian Funeral

Today I presided at a funeral for a woman who was 65. Apasimbo Swai
had been sick with heart disease for several years.  The visitation
was at the church at noon and the funeral started at 1 PM.  During the
visitation, the choir sings hymns in the background as people go pay
their respects.  Just like Nebraska, funerals are much more crowded
than regular church services.  There were people standing outside
listening through the windows.  The coffin is up front and is closed
after the opening prayer.  The paraments and my stole were black.
The liturgy is the same as ours.  At the end, where I usually do the
commendation, the coffin is opened  and the family gathers around it
for that final blessing.  The cross that marks the grave was placed at
the head of the coffin in the church and it is used for the
recessional followed by the 2 elders, me and the evangelist, then the
6 pallbearers carrying the coffin, then the whole congregation.

We walked to the graveyard singing hymns in procession.  There is no
vault, just a rectangular opening  where the pallbearers lower the
coffin using 2 ropes.  When it came to the part of the liturgy where I
say, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,”  an elder holds a
shovel of dirt for me to cast on the coffin 3 times. This is an
important part of the liturgy for them.

After that, the job of the pall bearers is to fill in the grave.
While the six of them work with their shovels, the choir sings several
songs.  When the grave was filled and stones were placed to outline
it, they gave me a wreath to place on first.   Then an elder read the
names of the family and they went and placed wreaths.  Then the
extended family and friends lined up with roses and other flowers and
placed them in the soil among the wreathes as if it were a flower
garden.  It was beautiful.  The choir sang hymns throughout.  Then a
final benediction and the extended family goes home for a large
dinner.  The whole worship service including the burial was about an
hour and a half.

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