Funeral Customs of African American Southern Baptists

by Janet Rutherford
Southern Baptist African American funerals celebrate eternal life.

Southern Baptist African American funerals celebrate eternal life.

Death transcends race, religion and culture, but the customs associated with it are often unique to specific cultures -- for instance, African American Southern Baptists. Because most African American funeral customs borrow from other practices such as traditional African funeral practices and Christianity, African American mourners, particularly Southern Baptists, view death as a time to both celebrate and mourn.

Home-going Service

According to the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, many African religions teach that life is eternal and death is the beginning of eternal life in a spiritual realm. Because African American culture adopted this belief, along with Christian beliefs, many refer to funerals as home-going celebrations. Mourners believe the deceased has transitioned from living on earth to living with the Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ.

Order of Service

African American Southern Baptists typically hold funerals at churches. During the service, mourners both grieve the death of a loved one and celebrate her life and the legacy she leaves. The service usually opens with a family processional. Choirs sing gospel songs, while friends and family are encouraged to provide short speeches or poems dedicated to the deceased person. An ordained minister provides the official eulogy. During an African American Southern Baptist eulogy, the minister provides details about the deceased person’s relationship with God and reminds mourners that the deceased now lives eternally with God.

Keening

Although home-going services celebrate the deceased person’s transition from earth to heaven, death’s finality is palpable. Keening, the act of lamenting vocally, according to Funeralwise.com, is “The most distinguishing characteristic in African American funeral services.” During an African American Southern Baptist funeral, it is common for friends and relatives of the deceased to shout, wail and in some cases, faint. To an outsider this may be a dramatic expression of grief; however, it often occurs after the final viewing of the body and after deceased person’s coffin has closed, which literally means that it is the last time loved ones will see the departed’s body. This poignant expression of grief continues until the end of the service when pallbearers carry the deceased person’s coffin to the hearse, and mourners follow the hearse to the gravesite for burial.

Repast

After most African American funerals, friends and family gather at the home of the bereaved or remain at the church for the repast, a meal traditionally served after a funeral. Wealthier families sometimes hire caterers to prepare and serve the meal. In most cases, however, friends and family members of the deceased prepare potluck dishes. Although grief and mourning linger, the repast is a family reunion, a time to reconnect with loved ones that time and location have separated. During this gathering, mourners suspend their despair and socialize with family and friends.

About the Author

Janet Rutherford began her writing career in 2006. She served as an English teacher and education consultant for 15 years. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English education from Rust College and a Master of Education in educational leadership from the University of Mississippi.

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