My experience with chaplains have been as an observant and thus not a practitioner. Over the years, I have observed them serving in the military, the penal community, and through the whole gamut of funeral service - from hospitals, hospice, and finally the final final: the funeral.
As a practicing Nichiren Buddhist since 1972, there is small group of appointed people, appointed by our national organization, who officiate marriage and funeral ceremonies and are called, "Ministers of Ceremonies". Although these people are not chaplains per se, they do offer themselves up, such services similar to chaplains. They are appointed on an as needed basis and is an unpaid position of responsibility. It began more as a regional thing to assist those who need to officiate/solemnize marriages...to "keep it legal", now serve in hospital and hospice, prisons, college campus, academia, and continue to evolve from there. I am not, at this time, an appointed Minister of Ceremonies.
As for funerals, in some of my experiences as an SGI member, regarding imminent death of an SGI member, I leave it up to the bereaved SGI or otherwise (blended) family/NOK (next-of-kin) member(s) to select an "officiate" if so desired. After all, this is their celebration of the life of the deceased. Sometimes the family choses to have services void of any SGI Buddhist involvement. This is honored and respected without question. We may be asked to meet before, during, or after the arrangements conference but it is not unusual to be asked by the family to carry out a memorial service at a later date. Regarding the SGI funeral, prayers are "officiated" (...prayers led by) by an SGI member who has taken on some of the "heavy lifting" of member care (leader) or Minister of Ceremonies. Incense and evergreen are sometimes offered during the prayer service. And in many cases, there have been and continue to offer "blended services" of Christion, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, held at the funeral home, church/place of worship, or other chosen venue. A new funeral venue being revisited and carried out is the home funeral...funeral and viewing in someone's home.
Most of us SGI members are regular Joes who choose to or not to have any special dietary restrictions, have chosen various career paths; we enjoy social activities pretty much like anyone else. We celebrate the various holidays each year with our families, loved ones and friends. We are in 192 countries because we cherish and embrace the customs and mores of all Humankind. We carry out most of our religious practices in our own and each others' homes: morning and evening Gongyo (recitation of portions of the Lotus Sutra) and chanting of the Daimoku (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) for as long as common sense and time allows. We don't wear "collars", robes, surplices, stoles, uniforms, and have no problem with those who do. The Nichiren Buddhist faith is not laden in ritualistic practices unlike some belief systems. We don't go around giving ourselves various prefix/suffex titles such as Reverend, Prophet, Pastor, or otherwise and have no qualms with those who choose to be called out with such an (honorific)name or title. Our organization utilizes un-paid lay leaders therefore have no priests. More information about the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism can be found at: http://www.sgi-usa.org/about-us/
As a professional funeral service attendant and celebrant since 1998, I am prepared to be called upon to serve families of every religion/belief system one can imagine. Many times the "officiant" becomes unavailable at the eleventh hour and thus I am called upon to "slam dunk" or fill in. My growing library also assists me with becoming more broad-minded with my Interfaith pursuits. We are a diverse people and I am all about celebrating such.
So in conclusion, my motive for this class as well as of my recent ordination is to be able to (legally) offer my services of and as an open-minded, self-appointed chaplain to those who are needed at one of the most critical time of one's life: the death of a loved one. In Michigan the funeral law says a licensed funeral director must be the one to say prayers at chapel and/or grave side burials. This is no longer an issue with me. Our funeral licensure rules and laws are antiquated and in dire need of revision. Meanwhile, people die and their bereaved need assistance to move on so, well, here I am, respectfully yours...
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...lesson 1, Master Of Chaplain Studies rebroadcasted from Lesson 1 blog...
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