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How to run a funeral in a pandemic

A Brooklyn pastor says trying to help grieving congregants in the middle of the pandemic is an excruciating experience

How to run a funeral in a pandemic

Jamison Galt (right) leads a church service before the coronavirus. (Handout)

A New York moment: 

Jamison Galt is the pastor of Resurrection Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and in late March he heard a parishioner’s dad had COVID-19. He and the church member, Jeremy Caliz, prayed and went over all the potential scenarios. Galt was frustrated that he couldn’t go to the hospital or to Caliz’s house to support him.

“The whole experience is kind of anti-good news,” he said. “At first it was: I have to distance myself from my neighbor out of fear of them. And then the next thing is: The creation is not good, I can’t touch these good things, because it might have [the] virus on them. I might myself be a weapon, my body has become weaponized.”

Caliz’s father died in early April (see my story about it). 

Information on funerals and dealing with death during the pandemic was “not info anyone had prepared,” said Galt. New York is only allowing in-person funerals of fewer than 10 people at a graveside, and the various systems for handling remains were so backed up that Caliz couldn’t arrange a burial in the near future. Caliz and Galt planned a virtual funeral.

“Going through this entire crisis in New York City as a pastor has been excruciating—as it has been for everybody—but excruciating in the manner in which you’re unable to do anything that you’re trained to do,” said Galt. “I ask myself every morning, what does love require, and what am I actually able to do today?”

Galt had to learn to use Google Meet for the funeral. Normally after a death he would sit with someone and cry, not saying much. But as a pastor in the pandemic, all he has are phone calls. So he has to talk.

Galt led the funeral service from an empty apartment above his own, since his wife was working and their four kids were running around. At least twice during the service, audience members accidentally took over the screen on Zoom by sharing their own screens.

“You’re working up the preacher-ly energy, and it’s like, ‘So and so has taken over your screen,’” he said. Tech problems were a small factor in the difficulty that not being able to “come together and grieve properly” presented.

Another pandemic challenge for Galt: a church birth. Some Resurrection parishioners had long struggled with infertility, and after years of prayer they had a baby during the height of the pandemic. Galt couldn’t go to the hospital or see them. They Facetimed him to tell him that they named the baby after him.

This week I learned: 

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced drive-in theaters could operate statewide, one diner in Queens turned its parking lot into a drive-in theater. Its initial showings sold out, and it appears this is now the hottest ticket in town. 

A court case you might not know about:

A federal judge ordered the New York Democratic Party to un-cancel the state’s Democratic primary set for June 23. The judge said the party’s cancellation of the primary was “unconstitutional,” even with coronavirus concerns.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a New York resident, brought the lawsuit, which former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined as well. Though Joe Biden is the sole primary candidate, the vote could have apportioned delegates to other candidates that would influence the party platform. 

Culture I am consuming:

A Hidden Life, another masterpiece from writer/director Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler in World War II. 

I didn’t realize until seeing the film that the title comes from one of my favorite quotes from my favorite novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot concludes the book: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org