For eulogist, solace is his full-time work

COLUMBUS (AP) -- The morning's drizzle sputtered against the window of a north side Waffle House as Andrew Hoover chronicled the journey that turned him into the circuit-riding eulogist he has become today.
"I was just out of college when my grandfather died," he recalled. "He had been a district attorney, had been involved in West Virginia politics for years.
"On a snowy day in the hills, his service was conducted by a minister who didn't know my grandfather and hadn't made much of an effort to. He mispronounced family names and missed many details. I said then and there that, if I ever got the opportunity to do a funeral, it would be a lot different."
Today, Hoover is a man of the cloth without a pulpit or a pastorate. He preaches solely to heartbroken strangers, to mourners whose acquaintance with him can be measured in hours.
For five years in and around Columbus, he was a freelancer, conducting 150 funeral services a year and selling headstones when he wasn't.
Two years ago, the Schoedinger family hired him to serve as eulogist for its central Ohio chapels, and he now performs about 250 funerals a year.
"I don't know if the national trend is moving toward churches or away," funeral director Michael Schoedinger said, "but a significant number of the families we serve do not know a minister and call on us to obtain a preacher, a eulogist, a facilitator.
"Andrew has had to be Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian. He asks them, 'What religion do you come from?' and 'How much religion do you want?'"
Sometimes the answer to the latter is "as little as possible." But Hoover is up to the task. "We create an incarnation of a person who, even though unchurched, was sacred in life," he said. "There are ways to explain that sacredness without using traditionally sacred imagery and language."
Various beliefs
Hoover is a scholar of the work of Doug Manning, a retired Baptist minister who, in retirement, conducts workshops demonstrating how to avoid the rote, cookie-cutter funeral.
Hoover, a graduate of a Methodist theological school, left the pulpit and the denomination years ago to become a Catholic. He is grounded in two faiths, but it is his personal traits that more likely engage those he serves.
Affable, avuncular and laid-back, he has a set of pipes and a manner of cadence that could have made him an excellent all-night DJ on an FM jazz station.
Despite all that, he occasionally runs into a dry well. On one funeral, he couldn't find anyone in the deceased's church with anything kind to say about her.
"My whole funeral was based on the premise 'She gave us someone to pray for.'"
He handles services for religiously unaffiliated believers, for the disenfranchised and for nonbelievers.
"There are a great number of people who do not believe in God, and we honor that in the service by not mentioning God," he said. "Those are the days I go out to my truck after the service and find religious tracts on the windshield."
He never knows what the fates are about to set before him. In this young year, he has already faced the service of a preemie, a police officer who died a year into retirement and a 22-year-old who overdosed on drugs.
Some might find his daily bread depressing fare. Not he.
"I'm enlivened by the people I get to know, even though I have to get to know them posthumously."

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