WESTMINSTER -- Planning a funeral for a loved one is probably one of the most difficult experiences a person will ever have.
That is why Dr. Shelton Smith, pastor at the Church of the Open Door in Westminster, decided to publish a book of answers to questions about death and dying.
In "The Christian Funeral," Smith has asked and answered questions designed to assist Christian families in their time of sorrow.
The 50-year-old Smith, who has been ministering at the church since 1979, said, "In my . . . years as a pastor, I have done many, many funerals. I think I have a heart to help people in that time when they are facing a death situation."
In his 30-page paperback, Smith addresses such questions as: What happens when a baby dies? Can a person prearrange his own funeral? Should a Christian consider cremation? What about a person who has committed suicide? What is proper attire for a grieving family? Should children attend a funeral?
"These are some of the questions that I have answered over and over again," said Smith, who began circulating the book in late March. "Probably the most common questions have related to infant death, suicide and cremation. These are earnest questions, and families just want to do what is acceptable and Christian."
There are about 1,000 copies of the book in circulation, and the response from those who have read it has been positive, he said.
Smith said he tried to write the book from a warm and compassionate perspective. "The feedback has been phenomenal."
"Almost every day someone tells me they are pleased with the book," he said. "I think the book has provided guidance and served as a communication tool, especially for families who have difficulty talking about death."
Since he started his ministry at the Church of the Open Door, Smith has written several other publications about the church and Christianity.
His works include "The Open Door Story" (a chronicle of the Westminster church), "Have a Great Day," "The Game Plan," and "The Tongues Tangle."
"The printed page is a powerful tool which helps people to understand things they need to understand," Smith said. "I enjoy putting things down on paper and watching people take it and let it enrich their lives. The publications are definitely an important part of my ministry."
Smith earned his bachelor's degree from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in 1966.
He received a master's degree in theology and a doctorate in ministry from Luther Rice Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1972 and 1976, respectively.
He has done further graduate work toward a doctorate in philosophy at the California Graduate School of Theology, in Glendale, Calif.
Before beginning his ministry at the Church of the Open Door, Smith pastored at churches in Tennessee and California.