The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Look away now

Thursday, 9 February 2012

It was interesting to follow the unfolding debate amongst funeral directors and celebrants in response the blog post ‘C of E raises funeral fee to £160’ here.

If you are one or the other, have you paused to wonder what on Earth any consumer would have made of it? 

Yes, look at it from that point of view. 

What is the impact of this description of a celebrant’s fee: “Just a quick slab of cash into the back pocket”

What is the impact of: “Sadly I do not believe anyone I see taking funeral services is providing a good or fair service to the bereaved families I serve“?

What about the woman celebrant doing up to ten funerals a week when other celebrants say they wouldn’t dream of doing more than two? Is she a greedy guts just in it for the money? How many funerals is too many? How can those doing just two a week, and spending all that time, possibly make it financially worth their while? Why can’t they be paid what they’re worth? 

The debate revealed that, far from adopting a collaborative, joined-up approach to the creation of what is, for the consumer, the most important part of the process, the funeral itself, funeral directors and celebrants (religious and secular) seem to come from different worlds, a proportion of each from Hell. 

What does this say about the value of the funeral as an event?

Why do funeral directors not embed celebrants and pay them properly? This was one of the best, most constructive contributions to the debate.

What emerged from the exchanges was a deeply depressing spectacle of dysfunction and unpleasantness. 

Go figure. 

23 comments on “Look away now

  1. Saturday 11th February 2012 at 6:01 pm

    The original blog was not directed at the clergy, Simon. It simply observed that the reduction of the differential between clergy charges and sec celebrant charges was a good thing for sec celebrants, the implication being that they would no longer be perceived to be significantly more expensive. Fully agree that excellent personal service impels people to write cheques ungrudgingly.

  2. Simon irons

    Saturday 11th February 2012 at 5:54 pm

    It’s clear no one likes being caught up in a generalised comment…..
    Many celebrants do an outstanding job as do many member of he clergy, but in both camps there are those that provide a poor service just to make a buck. Nothing wrong with making money but lets all be honest about it. The origional blog was in many ways having a go at the church for putting up their fees to what in effect is the same as many celebrants charge, so why criticism? Fact remains no one really cares how much the fee is, it’s all about the quality of the service.
    You pays your money and takes your choice.

  3. Saturday 11th February 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Speed the day, Charles. Is it time to pick the football up and run with it, thereby inventing an entirely new game?

  4. Saturday 11th February 2012 at 11:17 am

    Very good point, Sweetpea. I have been expecting recessionary pressures to encourage some of these wedding venues to diversify, and have not been surprised to receive requests to advertise on this site from several venues recently, the first time any of them has bothered. What these venues need to get their heads around is realistic pricing. That orthodox commercial rates cannot be applied to funerals says much about society’s uneasiness with the commercialisation of death — as any secular celebrant will confirm. The barmy irony here is that even undertakers tut and shake their heads with moral disapproval of any celebrant seeking an hourly rate which, in any other area of commerce, would be regarded as startlingly, if not suicidally, low. I, for one, am tempted to think laterally from this state of affairs. Perhaps funerals now need to be played on a completely different playing field. I believe they can.

  5. sweetpea

    Saturday 11th February 2012 at 10:40 am

    I think this is where we stray into the strange, parallel world of wedding v funeral pricing. The dove providers are just one of the businesses which tap in to both markets, both of which can be artificially inflated. Florists, for instance – and venues, too. Try booking a beautiful venue for a secular funeral which is primarily used as an approved premise for marriages, and you’ll see some eye-watering, prohibitively high costs for the hire. I’ve been long encouraging families to look at these venues for their funeral, and have been really discouraged by unrealistic costs. Only this week a family was quoted £400 an hour just to hire a space, before any other costs were incurred. A family I worked with was charged £1000 + VAT by a (very nice) hotel for a soft drinks and canape reception following a funeral. The deceased had requested it was held there, and they knew it.

    In the case of ‘marriage venues’, it’s a lost business opportunity – some of them are empty nearly all week, and could generate income on those quieter days by offering reduced rates. Funerals are shorter notice bookings, by their nature, and could be used in in-fill the diary without affecting the marriage bookings, which are, by their nature, made well in advance.

  6. Friday 10th February 2012 at 8:42 pm

    I think the real name is rock Doves Belinda! The Co-op seemed to promote them quite heavily in our area for a time – perhaps for a commission, or maybe that the operators are ex- co-op employees? I agree, it does seem like money for old rope compared with the work of a celebrant!

  7. Friday 10th February 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for reminding us Kathryn that winning a Gloria is a high honour, despite the flippancy with which some people treat it. e.g. the wit who what about micro coffins for poor little sparrows and robins….

  8. Friday 10th February 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Nice little keepsake, Kathryn.

  9. Kathryn Edwards

    Friday 10th February 2012 at 1:26 pm

    This is where I can bask in pride, as a winner of a coveted Gloria, for my proposal that the most diligent fds could boost their range of offering by supplying exquisite, hand-decorated micro-coffins for any doves that come to grief in the line of duty.

  10. Friday 10th February 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Charles, you are a source of excrutiatingly excellent puns (Ashroom…) and stories such as these. When is your anthology coming out?

  11. Friday 10th February 2012 at 12:14 pm

    GM you release them outside afterwards! Same with balloons and any other symbolic flying object you can think of.

    A few years ago at a crem in Notts a family released three doves symbolising, I don’t know, the Holy Trinity. Immortality, for sure. One of them – Holy Spirit, perhaps – flew inside the crem chapel where it was nice and warm and would not be dislodged. Despairing, the crem sent for a man who shot it dead.

  12. Friday 10th February 2012 at 11:19 am

    Presumably, Belinda, only at burials? I mean, you wouldn’t want them flapping round inside the crem, would you? (sorry…)
    But there we are, yet another reeason for getting your funeral ceremony out of the crem.

  13. Friday 10th February 2012 at 11:01 am

    Gloria – funeral doves seem to cut across the class divide. However, they are really white racing pigeons! Quite a pricey addition to a funeral but I find the release extremely moving when it’s done well.
    As for dogs, I’m proud to be the owner of a lurcher – used to be the poor man’s sight hound!

  14. Friday 10th February 2012 at 8:05 am

    Oh Kingfisher, no of course you didn’t offend! And I don’t think you were wrong in any sense – standing back and giving it a think is bound to be valuable. Personally, I thought the ‘slab of cash’ comment was, in itself, mis-informed (I’m trying to be polite!) but it certainly pulled out a lot of useful stuff.

    The middle-class thing – hope I didn’t come in too hard on that, it’s just that it gets used as a weasle-word by people who are trying a little too hard to score points and be ‘right on’and since I know that’s not you, I wanted to find out what you did mean.

    Weasle-word? As in ‘Radio 4 is so middle-class.” Well, it would be, that’s who it’s aimed at. Always the slight suggestion that being middle-class is less worthy than being some other class.

    I demand the right to be bourgeoise! Up with labradors, down with rottweilers (proles) and corgis (royals)! See, even dogs can be class- ified.

    But where funereal doves go, I’ve no idea…

  15. Lyra Mollington

    Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Just noticed I’ve listed doves twice. Well they do cost the same as a celebrant! Want a 5 minute slideshow? Your funeral director will have no problem recommending one at the cost of £250. They know what doves and slide shows look like. A bit like me when I chose my lovely pink laptop. The software was a mystery.

  16. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I don’t think it’s a criticism GM, merely an observation. Of the three words you suggest, precious is near. Unrealistic and irrelevant, definitely not. Idealistic perhaps.

    I thought long and hard before using the class word, because I thought it would be picked up on. But I stand by the use, because whether we like it or not, whether it’s relevant or not, it is something that underlines the general commentariat.

    I was trying to respond to the ‘accusations’ made in the post. To put a balanced view forward. To say, let’s just step back a little and ask, is it possible that the catalyst in the post which Charles deemed unpleasant had a point? No-one liked what was said, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

    I was trying to see it from an outsider’s view, objectively rather than subjectively, that’s all. I didn’t mean to offend. Apologies if I did.

  17. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Lyra, thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.

    Let’s hear it for software!

  18. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:20 pm

    A sound and telling point, Sweetpea.

    Heavens no, let’s not fall silent for fear of who’s listening. My judgement may not be sound. The record shows that it is often erratic.

  19. Lyra Mollington

    Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:19 pm

    It’s been said before – most funeral directors and funeral arrangers are much more comfortable with the hardware (coffins, flowers, doves, novelty hearses, doves etc.). They have catalogues full of stuff. When it comes to the software, they have to get out of the shop once in a while and watch some funerals.

  20. sweetpea

    Thursday 9th February 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Charles. ‘What emerged from the exchanges was a deeply depressing spectacle of dysfunction and unpleasantness.’ Not at all! Just a few provocative words which have elicited honest answers from those who have a very different experience and perspective.

    Are you seriously suggesting that we should moderate or censor our discussions in order to present a united front to possible consumers? That would be a shame.

    Real, lasting improvements to our experience of funerals can only come through honest exchange of information, and a willingness to listen, absorb and try harder. And if not discussed here, where? It’t not going to happen in the People’s Friend, lovely though their sepia-hued pages are.

  21. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I’m puzzled by the Kingfisher’s criticism of the “really quite middle-class general air” of the discussions. Is there something to be ashamed of or worried about, in seeming middle class? Or working class, or upper class, for that matter – insofar as those terms actually work in this era?

    I would have thought all that matters is the usefulness and helpfulness of the points made. And I wouldn’t really mind how the celebrant or FD handling my funeral would be described, if such terms had to be used, provided she/he delivered the right funeral.

    Do you mean something else, perhaps? Unrealistic? Precious? Irrelevant? I am not saying that is what the blog comments are, I’m merely trying to find out what the Kingfisher means! Because I don’t think we’ll develop better funerals by trying to allocate a class identity of dubious accuracy to the musings in this excellent blog.

  22. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks a lot for this, Kingfisher. I subsequently wondered whether I might have lost my sense of proportion over this — and then I reflected, Heck, I spend my life pontificating as if I were infallible or something. It’d be no bad thing to be brought down to earth with a bump.

  23. Thursday 9th February 2012 at 6:01 pm

    One of the great assets of this blog is that it is an open forum, void of censorship, available for anyone to comment on. In doing so, it has to allow for posts which may not be particularly constructive, posts which upset the equilibrium, posts which detract from the really quite middle class general air of the discussions.

    I personally don’t feel that ‘dysfunction’ and ‘unpleasantness’ are words I would use to describe the comments on the post in question. The responses to the probably quite deliberately provoking remark(s) were justified, well-reasoned and responsive to the allegations, and I think any ‘outside’ reader would see that.

    We’ve always known that there is a discrepancy between the ideals of the celebrant and the funeral director. The creation of a meaningful and fulfilling ceremony from the point of view of all parties is something that only a very few of us are striving to achieve. It’s a relatively new concept. The core contributors to this blog are privileged to be, almost by definition, those who are working towards this.

    We are a long way from funeral directors embedding celebrants. Whilst it has benefits for both, it brings with it restriction in choice for the client, potential difficulty in management of workload (10 in one week followed by nothing for 3 weeks would not be unheard of) and, of course, “he/she works for them, I’m not asking him/her” thus necessitating a 1:1 funeral director to celebrant ratio countrywide.

    Perhaps the real issue is that we have become a little too comfortable, a little too exclusive, a little too pre-occupied with the way we do things?

    Perhaps we all need to take a step back and a reality check every now and then?

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