New York State Funeral Directors Association

The church in the rural, thinly-populated area filled up quickly before the funeral.

There was only room to stand when ceremonies began for a man who was clearly beloved by many.

Halfway through the service, I realized why so many people were there.

One by one, more than a dozen people dressed in tuxedos slowly walked up the aisle.

They all had similar adornments around their necks and there seemed to be uniformity to their actions.

They filed in to the right or left of the wooden urn that was placed in front of the altar.

Then a gentleman began to speak.

He wasn’t eulogizing. It was as if he was making declarations – like somebody testifying before a court.

He called out to several others during the gathering, each who apparently had some form of leadership role.

One by one after they were called, these members took a step forward.

Each made a declaration about the man whose death drew more than 150 people to pay respects on a cold spring day.

B.P.O.E.

I was witnessing, for the first time, Rituals for a Funeral Service conducted by members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America.Elk statue at Elks Lodge in Ouray, Colorado. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. From the Library of Congress.

It wasn’t the time to pull somebody aside and tell them, or ask them, anything. I am grateful an outline of their rituals is available online.

The Elks are a group I never learned much about.

I just remember being asked to go the “Elks Lodge” for events like barbecues or a wedding reception or to drop off cans and bottles for a benefit drive.

The Order of Elks has a network of about 2,000 lodges throughout the U.S.

Celebrating its 150th Anniversary in 2018, this million-strong fraternity was founded in 1868 for the purpose of promoting and practicing four cardinal virtues: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity.

This organization reports spending in excess of $80 million each year for educational and patriotic programs such as scholarships, scouting, sports teams and others.

RITUAL

The Elks members wear what’s called “regalia,” which includes a purple velvet collar with a small roll and a jewel with an elks’ head “with a gilt edge on the collar.”

I learned there is a leadership structure in this organization, and the man who was speaking was the local Elks Lodge’s Exalted Ruler.

There was a special chime sounded during the ritual – it’s called the Chime of the Hour of Eleven.

It’s sounded to mark the hour of recollection, and it’s said to be heard by all Elks members, present and past.

It represents a “mystic roll call of those who will come no more.”

There are other steps of the funeral rituals.

Elks members who hold specific positions in the fraternity are given tasks.

The Exalted Ruler directed the Inner Guard to call the name of the departed brother.

He did so, and silence followed.

I can’t remember the Exalted Ruler’s response. I only remember it was deep and meaningful.

The Elks guide contains the text:

In vain we call. He has passed into the light which is beyond the valley of the shadow of death; the places that have known him shall know him no more; and again we realize that in the midst of life we are in death; that He who watches over all our destinies will again, on the last great day, unite the chain of Fraternal Love so recently broken.

After reading, I realized the declarations that followed were in keeping with the Elks’ mission principles – they all declared this fellow Elk adhered to their beliefs in Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity.

The leader called upon one of them in this way: “Esteemed Loyal Knight, how shall his devotion to Justice be measured?”

The Esteemed Loyal Knight responded: “As the just deserve justice, I declare that he was faithful to justice.”

In a similar way others testified to this man’s faithfulness to Brotherly Love and adherence to the Cause of Charity.

The Lodge Esquire was called on for a tribute to the member’s Patriotism.

The Esquire picked up an American Flag by its top corners and spoke the words as printed in the Elks’ rituals booklet:

He who loved his country’s Flag has not lived in vain. This Flag is first in our hearts as loyal Americans and guards our Altar as loyal Elks. May its clustering stars and streaming light guide the immortal soul of our departed Brother on its journey through eternity.

The Exalted Ruler placed plants: amaranth and ivy, on the wooden urn.

The amaranth symbolizes the Elks’ belief that the soul is immortal.

The ivy symbolizes brotherly love.

Before they filed out, all of the Elks placed ivy by the urn, too.

They were meaningful, impactful rituals. They provided structure to this funeral.

And they highlighted that members of this organization take their vows seriously – as did the man being honored at his funeral.

I had witnessed this man’s interaction with his family, and with myself, and I would have testified to the same things if I could have found the words to do so.

But I didn’t need to because his brothers and sisters of the Elks were there to do it.

And if there was any question about how much of an impact this man had on his neighbors, on his community and others who frequented events at this Elks Lodge, it was answered after the formal funeral service.

A rough guess of 150 in attendance is the best I can do. The invitation to attend included only one request: please bring a plate to share.

There was enough food there to feed three times the number of people who arrived to pay their respects.

Nobody went home hungry.


 

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association