Key resources - theological and spiritual perspectives on death and dying
Ministers or others needing liturgical resources for funerals and other services should refer to the Methodist Worship Book (from Methodist Publishing) which also includes prayers for the dying. An Anglican source of liturgies including emergency baptism, stillbirth, receipt of a diagnosis and withdrawal of treatment is Alternative Pastoral Prayers: Liturgies and Blessings for Health and Healing, Beginnings and Endings by Tess Ward (from Hymns Ancient and Modern)
A prayer for people nearing the end of their lives, and a prayer “on ‘losing’ a loved one to Alzheimer’s, were included in a Methodist resource (Vows and Partings) now out of print and so are reproduced here.
Methodist Statement: a Statement on Euthanasia was adopted by the Methodist Conference in 1974 and remains the position of the Church (although see the section on Assisted Dying for commentary on how much has changed in the intervening years). While specifically about one topic, its final section (A Christian approach) is also a broader summary of issues of life and death. “Man (sic) is meant to have fellowship with God and this relationship is an essential aspect of his life. It is, in fact, the possibility of an utterly unbreakable fellowship with God that gives man’s life its eternal dimension. Death is an event in that life, marking a transition rather than a terminus. For a Christian in fellowship with God, there is no ‘terminal condition’. Death is part of life”.
The Call to Holiness: report of the Joint International Commission for dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church. This includes a brief section headed ‘Holy Dying’: “Holy living comes to its natural conclusion in death as the end of the pilgrim journey on earth… Methodists and Catholics share an understanding of dying as a graced experience, even in the face of suffering and loss”.
This resource does not attempt to provide a review of theological scholarship on death and dying, however the short bibliography includes suggestions for further reading.
The Roman Catholic site, Art of Dying Well, provides useful material under the heading Big questions about death. A more detailed Roman Catholic statement on a range of issues is the 2004 report Cherishing Life. Another site with a theological foundation, but written for the general public, is christianity.org.uk which includes various brief articles on what Christians believe.
A booklet referred to in the previous section, Living Well in the End Times, has a useful brief section on difficult questions which offers a simple Christian response to topics including the next life, sin, hell and praying for the deceased.
A more in-depth discussion of Methodist theology on salvation is to be found in Methodist Doctrine and the Preaching of Universalism, a 1992 report on the view “that all people will inevitably be saved by God’s love”. This is not a doctrine that is part of the Methodist Church’s official teaching. Some interesting perspectives on contemporary funeral practices, memorialization and the future of ‘disposal’ are offered by the Revd Dr John Lampard in his article The Future of Christian Funerals.
A useful first resource on spiritual care is the Handbook of Spiritual Care in Mental Illness, produced by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. Despite the title, this is not only of relevance to cases of mental illness but contains a useful introduction to broader concepts of spiritual care. It also makes clear that there is such a thing as unhealthy ‘spirituality’, such as “someone who hears what they think is the voice of God telling them to kill their wife and children and then commit suicide. This person almost certainly has a mental illness”.
Links specifically related to the debate on assisted dying are shown in the section on that topic.