What the faith?

Charles Cowling

 

 

Posted by Reverend Noel Lockyer-Stevens, One Spirit Interfaith Minister

 

Ed’s note: Noel is writing in response to Richard Rawlinson’s challenging post here

 

The undertaking of a funeral service is for me one of the most privileged roles I undertake within my ministry in Dorset. I am sure that every minister, ordinand and priest feels the same or similar.

Why is privilege so important? When someone contacts me to take a funeral service it is because that it is recognised that I may be able to meet the needs of the newly bereaved family and the person who has left this mortal realm.

What are those needs? I believe they are as follows;

To be treated in a heartfelt way,

To be treated with respect for their religious or non religious belief

For the person who has passed to be honoured and their life to be celebrated despite any pain or anger from family or friends

To offer a landmark service that can be used for healing after honouring the deceased.

How can I help to meet those needs? I can arrive at the home of an unknown family as a stranger, discuss in intimate detail the life of someone I did not know and hopefully leave the lives of that family as a friend.

As a One Spirit Interfaith Minister I am not interested in tethering my belief system to the family I visit. For me anything that is respectful to the life of the departed and brings solace or comfort to the bereaved is okay in my book. The choice of music, song, prayer, poem or other reading is used as a tool for relief rather than invoking any form of guilt or shame or hurt.

I will not judge a life as right, wrong, bad or sinful, because these are points of view, not absolutes. I do not preach, I deliver soft and gentle messages of joy, forgiveness and hope. I do this in a way tailored to the beliefs of the family, whether they see an afterlife or not. Is there one? Can I say with proof positive that there is? Will I say with denial there is not?

This is not sitting on the fence, this is not a person afraid to talk about his beliefs of religion and spirituality. But neither will I tell any family what they can or cannot use to heal their pain, that there is only one brand of plaster to put on an open wound. Many brands of plaster aid healing and I am open to them all.

8 thoughts on “What the faith?

  1. Charles Cowling
    Richard

    Many thanks for the dialogue, Noel. It’s not always easy, or even wise, to discuss faith beliefs in public forum soundbites. I myself have got myself into a spot of bother on occasion when presenting (not preaching) Catholic beliefs. It wasn’t that I had a downer on interfaith (each to their own), it’s just I genuinely didn’t get it in relation to faith and secularism. I’m slightly more clear now. Best wishes, R


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Richard

    Hi Noel, somehow your message of 19 July appears before my last message of 5 July. Thanks for replying.

    Yes, I did want to know where you fit in between religious and secular celebrants.I agree training in seminary—whether interfaith, CofE, Catholic etc—does not automatically give spiritual authority, or even pastoral compassion when dealing with grief. There are good and bad faithers and non-faithers, for sure.

    But a faither, in my interpretation of faith, has a clear idea about what he/she has faith in. Both ordained priests and secular celebrants can serve a family by tapping into their belief system in relation to death, and offering ‘healing’ words in their loss. But this is pastoral care, worthy social work but distinct from faith.

    ‘Single faith’ clergy are not just about producing the ceremony content that the family requires, they’re about specific spiritual authority, believing in Heaven and Hell or Reincarnation or another form of deity and afterlife.

    Their seminary training is not simply a psychology or sociology degree that equips them to adapt compassionately to diverse needs. Does your course simply give you ‘insight into the views a family may have about what happens when we die’ or does it encourage you to believe in any absolute truths? If it prioritises relativist flexibility, it’s an ethical social service but not a faith.

    By the way, I don’t mean to be antagonistic. I’m sure you’re as good as the best priests and civil celebrants. But do you believe in God and the afterlife and, if so, how do you use this faith to provide comfort for others? Are you in the business of inspiring faith—specific or general—or in the business of being nice?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Noel

      Hi Richard

      I believe I am connected (as are we all) to an infinite source of energy, we may use the word God, or many others to describe that source. I believe the best way to represent that source is by living compassionately for all life everywhere.

      The Interfaith Seminary does not teach us what truth to believe, it teaches to respect all beliefs as equal and interact with them without judgement.

      Much of my work is pastoral and involves compassionate listening and supporting people. My faith allows my belief to be present in a unspoken way in all interactions I have, both within and outside of my supportive work.

      And here I shall leave this dialogue to any others who wish to say more.

      Best wishes Noel


      Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    I’d certainly appreciate clarification. From reading blogs by everyone from GM and Ru to Evelyn and Caroline Doughty, there’s clearly spirituality in civil funerals, whether or not God is addressed formally. Faith alone doesn’t make anyone good – it should inspire goodness but compassion and love stem from many seeds.

    Are ordained interfaith ministers more like civil celebrants in priest’s clothing, priests adding spiritual ‘authority’ to civil celebrancy, or something else? What sort of things do you learn at the seminary that better equips you to put a mirror up to the audience in order to tap into the diverse levels and variations of spirituality?


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jed

    Ditto Gloria


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Erm, I respectfully but eagerly await Rev Noel’s answer to RR’s searching question about the actual difference between civil celebrants and himself, in terms of what actually happens in a ceremony.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Noel, thank you for your blog. Your motive are clearly well-meaning: ‘For me anything that is respectful to the life of the departed and brings solace or comfort to the bereaved is okay in my book’.

    But what would you say are your points of difference? Don’t civil celebrants aim to offer this when they include the bereaved’s choice of music or reading, whether religious or non-religious?

    Also, a religious celebrant, inspired by a particular faith or denonimination, would not do ‘anything’ to offer respect and comfort, but some certainly water down the faith bit for specific audiences. However, it’s unlikely they’d crossover to other religions. Is interfaith ever such a cocktail of beliefs, or is the spirituality kept general, universal?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Noel

      Hello Richard, sorry for the delay in replying, I did not know until today the blog had been posted.

      Thank you for your questions. The main one seems to be that you consider there to be religious celebrants eg from a Christian Church or civil celebrants which may be humanist or other non religious belief, and you want to know where I fit either within or in between?

      Not wishing to get into a long standing exchange of blog posts I will attempt to answer this in one go.

      It sounds that you presume that I dress in priest’s (or similar) clothing and that I have an air of spiritual authority.

      Neither is the case, when I meet any family, as I have stated I look to know and understand their belief system in relation to death, loss and bereavement. Then I can produce the actual ceremony content that the family require.

      My seminary training gives me insight in the views a family may have about what happens when we die and also a number of religious and non religious contexts on which to build the service.

      My aim in producing and delivering a service for any family is to be compassionate to their needs and to produce (as I have mentioned) a landmark which helps with future healing from grief.

      Quite probably every celebrant does this, however as the words of the song “I do it my way” which in fact is the way the family of the departed want it delivered.

      I hope this gives you the clarity you were seeking.

      With best wishes, Noel


      Charles Cowling

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