Sample Memorial Service

Memorial Service for Bob “Mac” McClure
Mac was my mother’s second husband who came into her life shortly after my own father died in 1998. I only met Mac on a few occasions in the few years he was with my mother, but he was clearly a man who struggled in life. There was much healing work that needed to be accomplished in this memorial service, and I believe the service helped to begin the process of reconciling the many intense emotions left behind from his sudden death. I offer it to you because, for me, it was probably the most meaningful memorial I’ve performed.   

Opening words & Candle of Remembrance

Memorial services are about those who have passed away, but they are not for them. Memorial services tell their stories, but the stories are for us because we need to hear and keep the stories alive through their telling. Memorial services are for the living who must say goodbye. So, before we begin the process of saying goodbye to Bob McClure, who most of you know affectionately as “Mac,” and because there is always a need for healing and remembrance, I light this candle for those others in our lives whom we have lost, for those who could not be with us here today, for those to whom we did not say goodbye properly. I light this candle and offer a moment of silence for the people who could not, and are not, with us today.

Affirmation & Intentions

No one entering this world can escape sadness. Each in turn must bear burdens and bid loved ones godspeed as they set out on life’s ventures. Each one must suffer that sad farewell when loved ones embark on the last voyage from this world, and each in turn must take that journey. But for those who make this life a pledge to the spirit, there comes the assurance of a victory that shall redeem life’s pain.

Though our spirit be but the small glow of a single flame, for the one who keeps it burning brightly bravely to the end, death is not defeat.

We have gathered this afternoon in this beautiful space, this place of human aspiration and hope, to acknowledge the passing from us of Robert James McClure, Jr., and we gather  to celebrate his life. When someone we have cared for dies suddenly and unexpectedly, family and friends gather with sorrow in their hearts for mutual understanding and support. Just to be together, to look into one another’s faces, takes away some of our loneliness and draws our hearts together in the healing which we can offer one another. At such times, the various faiths that sustain us separately come together in a harmony that acts across all creeds and assures us of the permanence of goodness and hope. So we gather today with sorrow to celebrate a life, to give thanks that we knew this decent person, to recall some of his finest qualities, and to honor the principles, values, and dreams of Mac McClure’s life. Let us share a minute of silent prayer, to be followed by the audible repetition of the Lord’s Prayer.
(A note: I usually do not include the Lord’s Prayer in a service, but it was an essential inclusion for both sides of the family. I’m happy to accommodate the needs of a mourning family, even when they do not coincide with my own theological grounding.) 

Reflection on Life

As Mac was so fond of animals and his connection to them, I thought it fitting to turn to nature to find some of the answers as to why we gather in these moments of passing, why we are gathered here now. And I find an answer that is as universal as life itself.

Out at Mac and Michelle’s ranch the other evening I watched dozens of ravens and hawks circle overhead, and I thought of Loren Eisley’s essay “The Judgment of the Birds,” which he wrote about the experience of loss and transcendence.  Eisley had been climbing a mountain for half a day, and tired, he lay down against a stump and fell asleep.

He woke to the cries of two birds that had just lost their nestling. It was clear to Eisley that it had died, but suddenly, out of that area of woodland, a soft sound began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of a half a dozen varieties drawn by the outcries of the anguished parents.

The many birds cried out in an instinctive commonality. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries.

Eisley writes, “It was then I saw the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented … [for] … There, in the clearing, the crystal note of a [single] song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another [bird] took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful, they became the singers of life, and not death.”

Though we are gathered in the shadow of one’s passing, and we must protest that one we have known is not among us, let us also be singers of life, because weighing life and death, we, too, conclude that “life is sweet and sunlight beautiful.”

We all know rationally that death is inevitable, but that never makes the passing of a loved one easier. And we all know rationally that there are stages of grief, but that never makes feeling each one less acute, less difficult.

Saying goodbye is the bitterest that life has to offer, and it is integral to being alive. At some point, we will all say goodbye to one another, with only our memories of each other intact. In time, those, too fade.

Is this what we fear most? That we will lose any of that love we feel now? That we will lose our connection with the beloved? Or is it less rational than that, is it a fear of the unknown times ahead, time that could have been spent together — a fear of not knowing what life will be like without that person, without Mac.

Of course there is more, there always is. The questions we have. The tangible feeling that a part of us is no longer there.

With most of life’s challenges, I am an incurable optimist. I can always find an upside.

With death, optimism is more difficult. Life’s hammer-blow has struck, and there is no taking back what has been done. But there is hope.

There is hope that we will not forget those who have passed from us, that they will live in our memories and stories. There is hope that the love Mac has shared with us we will share with others. There is hope that while peace may be elusive in the present moment, there is peace for those who have gone on ahead into the universal mystery that we cannot know now, the mystery of life.

Musical interlude: I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack


There’s something you ought to know about Mac: He always wanted to be a cowboy. It’s what he told his parents when they asked what he wanted to be. I want to be a cowboy. Mac rode a horse when he was young and kept wearing his boots long after his childhood riding ended, through high school, through college, into adulthood. He continued wanting to be that cowboy.

About 10 years ago he tried riding again with some friends, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically when he requested the biggest horse at the stable. He had some difficulty getting up, the story goes, climbing up on a fence, grabbing the saddle, and kind of scrambling up the side of the horse, which must have been a very patient animal. Finally he made it into the saddle.

Another rider, a man dressed all in black—hat, chaps, the works—a real cowboy, had been watching Mac’s less-than-graceful ascent up the horse. When it was done, he trotted over, leaned close, and said simply, Ain’t very pretty, but it was effective.

Isn’t that how so much of the learning happens in our lives? Not very pretty, but effective.

There’s more to say about Mac’s re-entry into the world of horses, stories that tell us much about his character and values.

When Mac and Michelle had been married about six months Michelle was facing a tough decision about selling her horse, Slippers. She felt it was time to let Slippers go; Mac said of the horse, But that’s a part of your family.

But we can’t ride one horse, Michelle said, and then asked, Mac, do you want a horse?

Oh, more than anything, he replied.

That’s when they decided to move to Apple Valley and get Mac, as he was known up here, a horse.

There was a little problem, though: Mac loved every horse he saw no matter how close to being let out to pasture they were. So the learning continued, and Michelle had to say no to many a horse that Mac would have trailered home on the spot.

Finally, a friend found a horse named Bud, a beautiful animal. But to Michelle’s surprise, Mac seemed cautious about this one.

Do you want him, she asked.

Oh yes, he said, but I don’t know if he wants me. With that, Mac went over to Bud, put his arms around him for a few minutes, and then came back.

Yes, I’ll take him.

The learning continued, though, and his friends up here in the high desert coached him on being a cowboy. His friend Chuck taught him how to buy jeans that were long enough to cover his boots, and others affectionately took to calling him dude. Mac took it in stride. If not a cowboy, he did turn out a pretty decent horseman, and boy, did he love his horse, Bud.

May not have been pretty, but it was effective.

His spiritual journey also was sometimes a struggle, as it is for all of us, as Mac learned how to love and appreciate himself as much as others, learned to grow in his faith in God, learned to practice Christian Science with daily watchfulness and striving.

Michelle had more to say about this than I ever could, and she wanted me to share some things with you. She said Mac had the greatest capacity to forgive others. His faith in God and good never faltered; no matter what happened he would return to try and see as God sees, to fully rely on God for everything. She said that each day was God’s day to Mac, and if something was going wrong he worked diligently to make it right. If he made a mistake, Mac worked to correct it and strived to follow God, to do his will, and to see the perfect man in himself and others through the lens of love.

I personally saw this side of Mac last summer when I came out during a difficult time in his life. He told me of some regrets that he had about the past and of how much he loved his family. He talked a lot about his family, his children, Jo and Caroline, and grandchildren, Parker, Josie Dee, and Phillip. He was the first to admit that he could make mistakes, and I watched him this year, from afar, since I live in Chicago, work to better himself and be a quality husband, friend, and person. I sincerely believe that his ultimate goal in life was to reconnect with his loved ones and rebuild relationships.

I was not Mac’s pastor; I was his step-son  an honor I sometimes didn’t appreciate. Maybe I didn’t always give him a chance; oldest sons can be very protective of their mothers. But even in that relationship he had so much respect for others. Even if there were times when I didn’t give him as much of a chance as I could have, he would never say an unkind word about me to my mother. He honored that relationship with such integrity that I, today, want to honor him by standing and sharing his life with you today.

Most pastors also don’t get to clean up someone’s desk after they pass on. There’s only one computer in Michelle and Mac’s house, and it’s on Mac’s desk. I knew if my mom was going to be able to use the computer, I needed to do some cleaning up this week. I want to share with you what I found.

First of all, Mac was incredibly organized. Five file cabinets line his office, each meticulously organized. Every business deal, equipment manual, purchase, or transaction I think he ever made was filed. Even his hobbies and loves, his shooting club, his trains, his pets, each neatly filed away, labeled in some logical way, under control.

Then there was his desk, a looming pile of paper and, well, stuff that I knew needed to be cleared away  before I head back east tomorrow. I asked myself, why this mess when everything else is so neat and tidy.

The answer is in what I found buried on that desk, the things that Mac could not file away into cold steel cabinets. The things that were always so close to his heart that they could not be put away.

I found pictures of his family, especially his daughters. Always right there, next to the week’s bills, intermingled with the receipts. We’ve put the pictures we found on his desk out on the boards you see displayed.   I picture Mac sitting at his desk working, always able to come across a memory of some shared meal or outing.  I found thank you notes from his grandchildren Parker, Josie Dee, Phillip for the gifts he would send to them. I pictured him looking at the hand drawn pictures. I imagine these are the things that kept him going, wanting to be a better person, working and striving.

I also found several pieces of paper, with the words My Gratitude List written at the top, and with Michelle’s encouragement I’d like to share a few of the items written on them:

He writes, I am grateful for my beautiful wife Michelle and for her love to me.

I am grateful for all our doggies, horses, for this ranch, for the cats, burro, goat.

I am grateful for the time Michelle and I have spent together.

I am grateful for God’s gracious sticking by me, for his love of me.

I am grateful for the kindness of friends.

I am grateful for family.

The work of a lifetime is all this, family, friends, gratitude, struggle, the people who stuck by us when the going is difficult, the growth we experience in faith and our spiritual paths, even when God’s grand plan makes no human sense.

St. Theresa of Avila was once asked over tea: What is your experience of God’s will? She liked the question and answered simply that we are all travelers, seeking warmth and shelter along the way. We let enter our experience things that will enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. We sleep where we will wake with the strength to deeply love all that the mind can hold. What is God’s will for the gifts he gives us? St. Theresa reminds us that as with the birds to which God gives wings, flight. He wants us to fly, to rise above, to love all that the mind can hold.

May it be so.



Dear Heavenly Father and Mother, God of many names and faiths:

We are grateful for your presence in our lives for it is through your strength and guidance that we find meaning and hope in the world. We give thanks for the Christ message of love you delivered to us, may it bring healing and unity to our relationships and our world.

Dear God, let your light give Michelle, Jo, Caroline, and Mac’s grandchildren, his extended family, his friends, and all those who care for him a beacon of hope in the coming days that they will find the courage they need to see through to the true and enduring love that is your gift to us, even in our darkest hours.

Let his hour of reflection also be a reminder of the short time we have together on this earth, that we may strive to heal each other’s hurts and forgive each other’s failings.  Amen.

I’m not sure this day would be complete without playing Mac’s favorite song, Amarillo by Morning. I believe the song is a fitting tribute and that Mac would love to have this played as we get ready to part.

Musical Interlude: Amarillo by Morning, George Strait


Michelle picked out our final words, written by Mary Baker Eddy in 1910 to a student who had just lost her husband:

Your dear husband has not passed away from you in spirit; he never died but to your sense; he lives and loves and is immortal. Let this comfort you dear one, and you will find rest in banishing the sense of death, in cherishing the sense of life and not death. Your dear husband is as truly living today as he ever lived, and you can find rest and peace in this true sense of Life.

Go in peace.  Amen.

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink.