Earlier this year the senior pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran in southwest Minneapolis called Suzanne Thompson with a request: Would she take over as funeral coordinator?

Thompson, 54, of Edina, calls herself "a lifer" at the church. She was baptized and confirmed there, sings in the choir and has raised her three children as regular attendees.

She said yes.

The job requires her to line up the invariably female volunteers to prepare a funeral meal (typically homemade ham salad sandwiches, chips, relishes, bars and coffee).

Thompson does her share of serving, as well. Working side-by-side with women all 20 to 30 years her senior, she has come to value the kitchen camaraderie.

"If you were brought up in a church, you like the way it feels," she said. "Purpose and belonging, that's what we all want, and you find it in funeral hospitality. I put on the apron and put out the pretty china with the roses on it. It matters to the family. They see that we're there for them."

Thompson has taken more pleasure in the work than she had expected when she took on the volunteer position. Employed as the office manager for her husband's law practice, Thompson has the flexibility that allows her to slip out and spend four or five hours at her church. She knows most of her contemporaries don't have that kind of leeway.

"I've got my eye on the new retirees," she said. "There are some in their 60s. I think I can pick off a few of them."