If funeral celebrants suffer from anxiety, that is not surprising.
In addition to job anxiety, because they exist at the beck and call of undertakers, and financial anxiety because they must resign themselves to the vagaries of the mortality rate, there comes with the job, also, a degree of social anxiety — just try telling people what you do.
And then there is status anxiety. Until the British Humanist Association began training civvies to minister to the unchurched, all funeral obsequies in Britain had been presided over since the dawn of time by people, whether shaman or sorcerer, soothsayer or priest, who were imbued, in popular perception, with a special, sacred, qualification. Funeral celebrants need to have an answer to the question: “By what authority vested in you do you do this work?”
The full answer to this question is long and complex but can probably be condensed as ‘I (think I) am the Right Sort of Person’. What, precisely, is a Right Sort of Person? There was a discussion about this recently here.
Which brings us to the question of money, wherein lies all manner of vexation. Celebrants need to put food on the table if they are to be able to act out their vocation. In Africa, as Kathryn Edwards is wont to observe, it is the custom of villagers to leave a chicken at the door of the shaman. In our altogether more advanced society, celebrants must submit an invoice or specify the amount to be placed in the brown envelope customarily slipped into the back of the hand by the conductor as he simultaneously whispers from the side of his mouth, “Which one’s the widow?”
The vexed question of money has been at the heart of the distaste felt by many Right Sort of People towards what they feel to be an insurgency by the Wrong Sort of People, who are reckoned to be simply not up to it and, with an output level of up to ten funerals a week, only in it for the money. A complicating factor here is that the disapprobation of the RSPs looks a bit like, sounds a bit like, snobbery and is probably experienced as snobbery. Feelings are therefore running pretty high.
The contumely of RSPs has been focussed on the unfortunate and possibly undeserving person of David Abel as the most visible personification of this insurgency of the simply-won’t-do’s. This was because he posted a video on his website which described the amount of money to be made from funerals, to the exclusion of any discussion of a wider ministry to the bereaved. There was quite a lot of howling about it.
Not that RSPs are in it for the no-money. Most have a tender regard for their market value, especially relative to what bereaved people spend on accessories like flowers, and what undertakers bank in profit. Most think they’re worth more than they get. But they are, also, possessed of ideals. They see their work as ministry.
David Abel has now posted a video on the Fellowship of Independent Celebrants’ website in which he acknowledges and addresses the criticism he has received. He talks of the importance of vocation, advising those who think they’d be able to do something else equally well to do that instead.
He also tells potential candidates of his training course that celebrancy “is not a get-rich-quick scheme”. At the same time, he advises them to make a careful assessment of what they need to earn if they are to be able to follow their vocation: “I have to acknowledge … that this is a business.” He also addresses the matter of the number of funerals a celebrant might expect to take per week, and do them well. He reckons 8-10 probably too many, 3-4, plus a weekend wedding, more appropriate.
I am sure you will agree that he deserves a hearing. See his new video here. (I can’t embed it)