Category Archives: celebrants

What’s for love and what’s for money?

Monday, 31 March 2014

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If there’s one thing that really vexes people in the funerals business it’s the question of who gets paid for what – and how much.

Take the business of conducting a funeral. In England, when C of E clergy moved their fee up to £160 + travel, lots of people howled. Everyone in England is entitled to a C of E funeral whether they attend church or not. The C of E is the state church. Vicars are paid wages to lead parish worship and attend to pastoral duties. How therefore can they define a funeral as an extra? Well, up in Scotland, where the Church of Scotland is the national church, not the state church, ministers make no charge for conducting a funeral. But the C of S is running out of money and looks like not being able to afford to do this for much longer. Conducting funerals for nothing is a luxury it cannot afford. Every altruistic enterprise needs revenue streams.

In the case of secular celebrants, the contract with clients is apparently clearer cut. They sell their skills for a price the market will stand. Theirs is unmistakably a commercial service. A good many celebrants are thereby able to generate a reasonable income by knocking out up to 10 or so funerals a week, working from a template with slot-in readings, etc  – a liturgy by any other name, nothing wrong with that — comprising also a treatment of the life of the person who’s died which probably goes little deeper than rapidly gathered facts + dates + a few notable attributes.

Alongside these fast-food merchants are the altruistic adherents of the Slow Funerals movement for whom the creation of a funeral is an evolving process requiring much talk, much listening, much thought and, as a consequence, a treatment of the life lived which calls for a great deal of ‘frightfully difficult literary labour’. The result is a funeral which goes deeper and is more personal. A better funeral, in other words. But to work in this way, and conduct a very few funerals a week, requires either acceptance of poverty or the existence of another form of income, whether in the shape of a pension, an inherited fortune or a supportive partner. In commercial terms, it is an uneconomic way of working.

So: how much of the time put in by these Slow Funerals people do we count as being given for nothing? What part of their work, in other words, counts as voluntary work?

This question doesn’t apply only to celebrants. There are undertakers, too, who believe in Slow Funerals, and who may also believe in doing their best for those who struggle to find the funds for a funeral. They generate a great deal of social capital but many of them don’t bank a lot of cash. It’s the same with every vocational occupation, of course, the difference being that most vocations we can think of pay at a level that makes going the extra mile an affordable luxury. Many of our most caring undertakers, by contrast, live close to the breadline. Many, but by no means all.

Funeral shoppers have always had a difficulty with acknowledging and accepting that a funeral is a consumer product just the same as any other. That’s changing. Two factors above all are responsible. First, it’s a product which 1 in 5 people struggle to afford. Second, it’s a product whose experiential value is being increasingly questioned.

Did I say two? Add a third. Until recent years, the state enabled everyone to buy a decent one-of-those, what-everyone-has, funeral. Any notion that the value of the Social Fund Funeral Payment will be restored in this, the era of the benefits cap, looks delusional. So something’s got to give, and that something’s almost certainly the way we do it now.

The time-consuming part of an undertaker’s and a celebrant’s work, which calls for high expertise and wisdom, is the emotional support of the bereaved, helping them come to terms with, and make some sense of, what has happened. The easy bit for an undertaker is the care of the person who’s died. Any good celebrant will tell you that only a small proportion of the value of their work can be judged by the script they read at the funeral.

You’ll not find the pastoral element of the work itemised and charged for at an hourly rate on any bill submitted by an undertaker or any celebrant. You can’t place a commercial value on that, you can’t charge people for kindness. If you’re an undertaker, it’s the care of the body that has to cover it. If you’re a celebrant, the rate for a template funeral. Reputation will help, too, of course. You can put your prices up a notch if everyone agrees you’re worth it — but you might not want to do that if it means making you unaffordable to people of slender means.

Whatever you think of all that, the fact remains that the what-everyone-has funeral, reckoned expensive by those who can afford one, is now out of reach to an increasingly large segment of the population. We need something more affordable.

conference held at the International Longevity Centre in February this year proposed a cheaper way forward that we’ve discussed on this blog: There is considerable potential to review the funeral service itself, separating the ritual from the committal. This could enable people to have more time to consider the ritual aspects and costs of the service, separate from the more functional aspect of managing the remains. When they say committal, they mean disposal, of course. Do read the report, it’s good.

Separate the disposal from the ritual. Take the corpse out of the funeral. Bring in cheaper cremation and the re-use of graves, and the costs begin to tumble. If, that is, the resulting ritual is reckoned timely and satisfying. Not everyone will be persuaded, of course. 

Kate Woodthorpe at the University of Bath takes it a step further and proposes that there may be roles for “public, private and third sectors in both preparing individuals and their families pre-death, and when bereaved.

That’s interesting. Third sector. Volunteers to share the work of listening and supporting bereaved people. That would redefine the roles of undertakers and ritualists. But is it really a viable alternative to the way we do things now?

 

Does distance disadvantage the bereaved?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

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Guest blog post by civil funeral celebrant Wendy Coulton

More often the next of kin I work with to plan non-religious funeral ceremonies live in another part of the UK but this week I have had my first experience of discussing and planning arrangements with relatives living on two different continents!

Creating trust and an open dialogue through long distance telephone calls and email communication is more challenging than a conversation in person. A lot can be gleaned from reading facial expressions and body language or observing how relatives interact with each other. There is also of course the power of silence or pauses which can reveal so much about relationships or emotions which may not be as comfortable on the end of a phone line.

I ask the client how they would like to communicate and whether they would like the planning of arrangements to be broken down into bite-sized chunks or prefer to do it in one long conversation or email.

Some clients drip feed me questions or responses by text and others co-ordinate contributions from other people who contact me direct. Offers to skype have not yet been taken up.

Personally for me the most difficult aspect of the ‘remote conversation’ is the tribute research and feeling I have captured the real essence of the person who has died.

It does feel different meeting a client for the first time minutes before the funeral starts but there is a notable shift by the time our shared funeral experience ends. And it’s possible that some prefer the detachment of long distance preparation.

I don’t want my clients to feel disadvantaged in any way because they live so far away and I hope communication technology doesn’t dilute my warmth and professionalism. Any tips or guidance would be welcome.

 

Better together

Thursday, 6 March 2014

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Sexual intercourse began, Philip Larkin reckoned, in 1963. So, roughly, did the secular funeral. It was about this time that the BHA began to develop its celebrant network.

Uptake wasn’t dramatic at first; most unchurched people carried on having bleak and meaningless duty-minister funerals all the same. By the turn of the century, though, it was clear that numbers were fast falling away from the church, and it was in 2002 that the zeigeisty ‘civil’ funeral for people of fuzzy faith or swirly spirituality was transplanted from Australia by Professor Tony Walter. Civil Ceremonies Ltd began to train ‘civil’ celebrants (Prof Walter is still one of the tutors) to conduct funerals “driven by the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family, not by the beliefs or ideology of the person conducting the funeral.” This formula was taken up by green fuse in Totnes and then by the AOIC. Infighting at the AOIC begat all manner of breakaway training outfits and professional associations. The cost of training became a competitive issue when new providers entered the market with cut-price, ‘microwave’ training.

We can talk about the value of training another day. Can it do more than merely get you started? Can it turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse? Or even a halfway decent suede one? Does training weed out those who aren’t good enough? Wouldn’t apprenticeship work rather better? As I say, another day.

A consequence of the upsurge in celebrant training is that some areas of Britain are now flooded with bright-eyed rookies trying vainly to get a foot in the door, watched with uncollegial fear and loathing by incumbent practitioners. The number of training orgs has gone off the scale.

The self-regard of secular celebrants is high, bolstered by the touching gratitude of the families they work with. Lest this self-regard lapse into complacency, let’s have a look at three areas possibly requiring attention.

1. Why do you all hate each other?

There is, to all appearances, vastly more that brings celebrants together than drives them apart, shared vocation for starters. So, why so little interdenominational dialogue? 

Why all this silly internecine stuff that fuels feuds? Humanists mutter bitterly of pick ‘n’ mixers and prostitutes. Pick ‘n’ mixers and prostitutes mutter that humanists are arrogant and out of touch, the IoCF is too corporate, green fuse is hippy-dippy, ministers are wicked. Some organisations are too commercial, selling celebrancy as a nowt but a nice little earner; others offer externally accredited diplomas at an unnecessarily high academic level. All organisations think they’re the best. 

To anyone on the sidelines it looks as if navel-gazing issues, commercial concerns, petty jealousies, the promotion of self-interest and making the best of things as they are, not as they ought to be, engross you to the exclusion of vastly more important matters. 

Oh, and the truth is that all celebrant organisations churn out some celebrants who are stunning and some who are rubbish. You need to sort that. 

2. Why the complete lack of thought leadership?

There is a very lively, issues-rich debate going on these days out there in society about dying, death and funerals. Name one contribution to this debate made by the celebrant orgs. Go on, one.

Celebrants, you are intelligent people and the best of you are reflective. Collectively, yours can be an influential voice. But you can only begin to contribute when you start talking to each other.

3. Why the denial of client choice?

Celebrancy does not offer, for celebrants, a level playing field for open and fair competition. It’s no job for a proud freelancer. Undertakers, many of whom are little interested in the value of the experience offered by a good funeral ceremony, are still the arbiters of who gets to work and who doesn’t. This suits the palm-greasers (the sort of who slip their FD fifty quid for every funeral), the grovellers and the dependency junkies. It works against talented new entrants for whom career progression may be a matter of dead person’s shoes.

This comes at the cost of the very thing everybody in funerals says they care about most: client choice. If it is good and right that the best celebrants thrive and the worst go to the wall, then it is clients, and only clients, who can be the arbiters of that.

Client choice is easily enabled. The website funeralcelebrants.org.uk already enables bereaved people to type in their postcode and find out who’s in their area. Only a very few of the listed celebrants have enabled feedback. Tcha! Every celebrant can link to their website on which they can have a video clip so people can see if they’re their kind of person, and a calendar showing their availability — like a holiday cottage.

But first you need to get together and show a united front to the undertakers. Are you up for that?

If it’s the interests of bereaved people that matter to you most, as you say, it’s time to drop the bickering and put them first.

 

Holding the line

Monday, 24 February 2014

There’s nothing new in a minister-naffs-off-mourners story, nor yet a Catholic-priest-bans-eulogy story. Some minsters are insensitive to the needs of their congregations, some insist on theological orthodoxy, some use a funeral as a conversion opportunity, some like to remind non-churchgoers that they will burn for all eternity in the fires of hell. Some clergy do exactly what their congregations want them to do, let’s not forget, but today’s story is not about them.

Today’s story is about Father Mike, a catholic priest in America who, at the funeral of a 29 year-old, was reckoned to have conducted himself in an insensitive, impersonal way which denied the congregation the comfort and assurance they sought. Below is an email one of the mourners sent to him:

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Below is the reply from the priest:

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Father Mike, like a lot of Catholic priests, believes that a funeral is no place for a eulogy. The do afterwards is the appropriate occasion for personal tributes, reminiscences and other life-celebratory stuff. A Catholic funeral has an altogether different job to do.

Father Mike’s heartless-seeming treatment of those grieving people is theologically defensible. Who are we to take issue with him for defending the integrity of the Catholic funeral mass and objecting to it being muddled by the intrusion of an anomalous element like a eulogy? Any faith group which is settled, fixed and confident in its beliefs prohibits the intrusion of anomaly. Atheists (Humanists) ban religious elements from their funerals, a practice reckoned heartless by some. In the words of one humanist celebrant, “Reverting to old comforting superstitions at a time of bereavement is understandable and will no doubt persist for a generation or two … I feel that celebrants, whether Humanist or religious should personally subscribe to the ethos and philosophy that underlies the nature of the ceremony.”

Whether or not Father Mike would subscribe to what this same celebrant goes on to say, we can only wonder: “I’ve met independent celebrants who’ve told me they can be whatever the client wants them to be but that strikes me as being the job description of an ancient but entirely different profession altogether.” (Source)

The question never debated by secular, semi-religious, call-them-what-you-will celebrants is whether a eulogy does actually belong in a funeral. If a wedding is analogous, we note that the speeches are made at the wedding breakfast, not the marriage ceremony — the happy chatter is kept separate from the solemnisation.

Eulogy clincher

Monday, 17 February 2014

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One for you celebrants.

US Methodist minister Talbot Davis has written an open letter to fellow pastors on his blog urging them to make a better fist of funerals. He offers lots of sound advice and concludes by urging them to use his favourite line:

“[The deceased] is more alive now than they have ever been before.” 

Used at the end of a eulogy, he says, this goes down extremely well.

Tempted to try it?

(When I was a celebrant I had a favourite line. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.)

Greetings from the Isle of Portland, buffeted but unbowed.

Would you ever marry them?

Friday, 7 February 2014

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We are pleased to publish the email below, which raises a potentially interesting point of discussion. The name of the sender has, with our agreement, been redacted.

Dear Charles

I read with interest yesterday’s blog about the Funeral Director who has diversified into organising other ‘life events’. I can’t for the life of me decide whether or not what you say is fantasy and poppycock, or whether this man actually exists. On the grounds that truth is infinitely more depressing than fiction, I have decided to believe that he exists.

But that is not why I am writing to you. Much the more interesting matter you raised was one you merely touched on — or to be precise, glanced off. You say this man was ‘inspired’ by the example of an ‘all-rounder’ celebrant (what my close celebrant friends and I refer to more bluntly as a promiscuous celebrant). I am pointing the finger here at celebrants who ‘sleep around’ with other rites of passage. I bump into a great many of them, these days, at the crematorium. Their talk is all of wedding ‘fayres’ and fripperies.

Now, I am a funeral celebrant. I have been a funeral celebrant for seventeen years. In all that time I have been as minded to conduct a wedding ceremony as walk to the South Pole in carpet slippers.

I have a question I would like to address, with your indulgence, Charles, to any celebrants out there brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and speak out.

Celebrants, if it was funerals that drew you to celebrancy; if, for you, funeral celebrancy is a vocation, can officiating at ‘lesser rites’ be seen as a natural extension of that vocation? Would you, do you, ever do it?

The stalemate of funeral choice

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

PlanBLostMyWay

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Cherishing freedom of speech we often quote the line, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. So democrats proselytise in order to influence others, and sometimes those influenced leave one tribe and join another. A far cry from relativism, the message is, choice is good, but don’t choose them when you can choose us.

Funeralworld is no exception, and no more so than in matters of faith. To illustrate the point, let’s fisk the views of an Anglican priest who embraces the clarity of set liturgy over the burden of unfettered individualism. Fisking in red.

Father Edward Tomlinson writes:

‘In the last few years it has become painfully obvious that many families I have conducted funerals for have absolutely no desire for any Christian content whatsoever’.

Yes, it’s clear many folk book the funeral services of C of E priests without any real enthusiasm for religious significance.

‘I have stood at the crem like a lemon, wondering why on earth I am present at the funeral of somebody led in by the tunes of Tina Turner, summed up in pithy platitudes of sentimental and secular poets and sent into the furnace with ‘I Did It My Way’ blaring out across the speakers. To be brutally honest I can think of 100 better ways of spending my time as a priest on God’s earth’.

If you were saying noone should ever choose Sinatra, I’d call you a snob and busybody. As you’re saying, ‘why Sinatra and me, a priest?’, I sympathise. So what are you going to do about it? You could perhaps create a sensitive compromise that gently allows God’s presence to resonate: for example, people who haven’t been to a service in years might value their choice of, say, the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love being linked to the words from 1 Timothy that ‘we bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out.’ Granted, you might be scratching your head to find such a link with some secular songs. ‘My Way’? If this smacks of fudge, your other option is to decline bookings unless they request pure liturgy.

‘Today the norm is to place the liturgy in the hands of a humanist provider or ancient crumbling cleric who will do as told, in short those who will not trouble undertakers with unavailability’.

The norm is not to place the liturgy in secular hands, although civil celebrants are indeed increasingly chosen for non-liturgical services. However, you’re right that undertakers have retired priests on speed dial due to their availability. But you did say working priests were quite busy enough doing priestly things without sitting through Tina Turner at the crem. Also, it’s uncharitable to refer to old people as ‘crumblies’. ‘Wrinklies’ is more acceptable.

‘I am troubled that pastoral care is being left in the hands of those whose main aim is to make money. And I am further concerned that an opportunity for evangelism is slipping through our fingers’.

It’s wrong to assume civil celebrants and retired priests are just in it for the money. Secondly, while it’s our duty to bear witness, evangelising of a finger-wagging nature is likely to score an own goal at a funeral where mourners have not specifically requested Christian liturgy. I return to the two C of E options: decline the booking or accept it, limiting evangelism to taking the secular elements and gently and resourcefully relating them to God’s universal truths.

‘It is my passionate belief that a requiem mass and the Christian prayers of ‘commendation and committal’ are not mere aesthetic choices in a market place of funeral options. Rather something real and significant is happening, on earth and in heaven, when these take place. Because I am a priest, I want to point the way to Jesus Christ. Naturally there will be those who disagree with my beliefs, I think they should have the right to exercise this choice, even if I think they’s misguided. But if this is your position, why invite me to the party?’

I agree Christian funeral liturgy is profound and sacred, and we both hold it can’t be imposed involuntarily on those who don’t share the faith, whether atheists, Jews, Muslims or Hindus. If you don’t feel you can point the way to Christ within the context of a funeral with secular elements, there’s no alternative but to opt out.

Your frustration is no doubt caused by genuine concern that people are missing out by choosing ‘Simply the Best’ on a sound system over prayers of commendation and committal. Perhaps your exasperation is heightened as you believe more people would share your view if they truly thought about what they wanted from a funeral. Some Christian-lites might, but decided atheists would not. The purpose of a funeral is in the eye of the beholder. That’s not relativism as we can still hold firm views for ourselves.

Footnote 1: I deliberately didn’t fully identify the priest until now as there’s a twist in this tale. Father Ed homlinson shared the above views while he was C of E vicar of St Barnabas church, Tunbridge Wells. He’s since converted to Catholicism where what can and cannot be done within the requiem mass are clearly defined. So no more hand-wringing conflicts between priestly obligations and pressure to offer secular choice. The menu is set, not à la carte. It’s now down to the free will of members of the Church to choose to dine or lapse elsewhere.

Footnote 2: At the time of speaking out, Fr T got a mixed response. ‘I think that most cremations I have been to that have been run by a humanist have all been more than off key,’ said Jane Greer. ‘Give me a good burial with a proper vicar anytime. It’s the difference between Cod’s Roe and Caviar.’ Denise Kantor Kaydar disagreed. ‘It should not matter if someone wants Verdi’s Requiem or Frank Sinatra. I think he is being a little insensitive, but he could be trying to incite a debate.’

Funerals, who needs em?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

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When England first played Scotland, on 30 November 1872, both teams employed formations that would raise eyebrows today. Scotland went for a cautious 2-2-6 while England employed a more swashbuckling 1-1-8. The game was all kick-and-rush in those days.

Kick-and-rush. It’s how businesses, anxious to futureproof themselves, respond to prophecy. Some bright spark peers into a crystal ball, dreams a dream and holds up a trembling finger. No matter that their vision is little more than a projection of their wishes and values, everyone rushes towards it.

Remember the Baby Boomer Hypothesis which held that, just as baby boomers reinvented youth culture, so they would reinvent death culture? Pretty much everybody bought that, including the entire advisory council of the GFG. The theory was that these free radicals would reject bleakness and embrace creative, themed, personalised, sometimes iconoclastic celebrations of life. The good news for the industry was that there would still be good money to be made from funerals so long as undertakers made the switch from cookie-cutter to bespoke; from being po-faced solemn-event planners to bright-eyed party-planners adding value through accessorisation and offering concierge-level service and red-carpet delivery. Pretty much the package Alex Polizzi tried to sell to David Holmes in The Fixer.

It’s not happening, is it? And as we take that in, we reflect that baby boomers have, yes, always been insouciant about what went before and unsentimental in their rejection of it. They’re re-inventors, not renovators. And they’re not all going the same way.

The evidence seems to be that baby boomers are increasingly asking themselves what good a funeral would do, really. More and more of them see little or no emotional or spiritual value in the experience. They’re not all rejecting them out of hand all at once. Some are dressing trad funerals up in a gently creative way with wacky hearses, jolly coffins and startling music choices. But on the whole they’re whittling them down. The reasons are complex and we’ve rehearsed some of them here before.

Dissatisfaction with the value offered by a funeral is probably most widely evidenced in the near-universal belief that funerals are too expensive — ie, they’re not worth what they cost. The strength of this rejection of funerals is evidenced in people’s unrealistic incredulity that a basic funeral should cost much more than having an old washing machine taken away.

Read the comments under any broadsheet article about funerals. The evidence of rejection is everywhere. If the effect of a funeral is to leave you feeling, next day, beached and empty, that’s not surprising. A funeral is supposed to fill a hole, not leave a void. Here are some recent comments in a discussion forum on Mumsnet, of all places:

My MIL has said … she wants the absolute bare minimum in terms of coffin and cremation. No service, no ‘do’ afterwards. Then she wants close family to either go somewhere nice for the weekend together. 

I had it put in my will that i don’t want any sort of funeral when i die. I think the money funeral directors charge for the most simple of services is utterly abhorrent

[My mother-in-law] died recently, she didn’t care what we did by way of funeral (I think her only words on the subject were that we could drop her off the pier for all she cared…)

My uncle didn’t want a service – he just went straight to the crematorium.

I wouldn’t want to burden love ones with the cost, I have life insurance but would want the cheapest option

It is criminal how the respectful disposal of our loved ones has turned into a million pound industry!

I have left strict instructions that I am to have no funeral service and I have made sure everyone knows about it. It is written in my will and my family would never go against my wishes. They know how strongly I feel about it.

Immediate cremation, ashes in a simple box and then take me down our local and stick me on the bar whilst everyone has a quick drink. Next day, throw my ashes in the sea at the place I grew up in as a child. That will do. No order of service with dodgy photos and poems, no wittering on about my life and no-one failing miserably to pick out my favourite songs. Boo hiss boo.

I am a crematorium manager, and can confirm that plenty of people choose to have no funeral service.

I just don’t get the whole thing. I’ve only ever been to one funeral that was really a lovely rememberence and not out of duty of what they thought they had to do. I would much rather my family used money to go on holiday to our favourite place and remembered me there.

My FIL keeps saying he doesn’t want a funeral and wants to be cremated asap with no ceremony or fuss.

We chose not to have a funeral for my dad when he died. Cardboard coffin, cremation with no service. I think he would have been pleased but I tend not to tell anyone as I have some judgey reactions as if we were being cheap (was not relevant) or he was not loved (he was very much).

The Mumsnet discussion includes a few objections on the lines of: ‘To be fair, it’s not really about you. It’s about the loved ones you left behind, it’s an essential grieving process.’ But the overwhelming majority can see no good in a funeral.

This would seem to overturn the supposition that excellent secular funeral celebrants and empathetic undertakers would save the public ceremonial funeral by making it meaningful once more. But there’s a growing realisation that you don’t need to put a corpse in a box and tote it to the crem in blackmobiles, you can create a perfectly satisfying, private, informal farewell event with ashes. Direct cremation, already growing rapidly, looks set to skyrocket.

I know that there are lots of people who believe that reports of the demise of the funeral are exaggerated. They tell me to stop being so pessimistic, things are getting better. But I had lunch with Fran Hall, chair of the Natural Death Centre on Friday, and was struck to discover she thinks as I do. She said, “One day soon the industry is going to wake up and find itself dead”.

It’s possible that there’s no saving the funeral — it’s had its time. After all, it’s not just Britain that’s saying nah. But funeral people, overly focussed on commercial concerns, are putting up absolutely no concerted philosophical defence.

If the public, ceremonial funeral is worth saving, now is the time for the best in the business, from all walks of belief, to come together and be an influential voice in public discourse about funerals, much of which remains incoherent. If the emotional and/or spiritual health of the nation is at stake, who better to do it? Ans: among others, the people whose livelihoods depend on it. Come on, don’t go down without a fight. Do we really need funerals? If so, why?

Don’t all rush, I could be wrong, this may not be a Dunkirk moment. But crisis or no there still exists a pressing need to make a considered, rational and persuasive case for funerals — if, that is, you truly believe they do any real, deep and lasting good. Do you?

There are an awful lot of people out there who don’t. If you can’t demonstrate the purpose and value of your product, who’d want to buy it?

What to say when someone’s history?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

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The job of the life-centred funeral is clear enough. It serves two purposes: first, to meditate on the now-complete life lived; second, to spell out all that has not been lost. While the dead person will no longer be an active presence in the mourners’ lives, their example will continue to be influential, and memories of them will continue to give pleasure — after a period of grieving when those memories are likely to give more pain than pleasure.

At the heart of a life-centred funeral lies, therefore, the treatment of the life lived. The composition of this treatment calls for extraordinary craft skills by the eulogist, who must judiciously select what goes in and what doesn’t  The audience hasn’t got all day. They know what they want to hear. They don’t want to hear all the stuff the person did, they want to hear about what made the person tick. This is best expressed through expertly crafted anecdotes which encapsulate ‘what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed’. A good eulogist articulates and illuminates the essence of the dead person — brings them alive — and accomplishes all that in around 7 unhurried minutes. It’s one of the most difficult writing briefs in the known universe.

Not surprising, therefore, that it’s oft done so badly. The lazy or inept eulogist opts for the cop-out of a flat-lining chronological narrative — a story which can only end unhappily. Up and down the land today crematoria will sullenly resound with the bathetic words “Henry James Barnett was born on…”

For a celebrant too busy to think (there are far too many of these), this makes a funeral script easy enough to write on autopilot. They would defend themselves by saying that this is what the family told him or her. Not good enough, pal.

The size and quality of a person’s character is not necessarily in direct proportion to amount of stuff they did. For example, the lives of many people are not defined by the jobs they do. But in the case of a family for whom the funeral eulogy is the first draft of the official biography, the agreed (likely enough retouched) life story, what is the eulogist to do with all the stuff the family wants in, but which simply either won’t fit or won’t hold an audience?

The answer lies in the document produced at some expense but all-too-soon dropped in the bin as of no lasting value, namely, the service sheet or booklet. This is the place for the timeline, the start-to-finish life story with all the house moves and career shifts and professional achievements — the CV stuff.

Such a narrative would complement the words of the eulogy — and might even repeat some of them. There’d be no time to read it at the funeral, of course, so people would take it home and peruse it at leisure. It’d be of lasting value, so they’d be far less likely to guiltily slip it with the recycling. All at once the service booklet would start earning its keep. 

Can marriage between a creative and a control freak be a happy one?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Project manager

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The relationship between architects and project managers in the construction industry is always icky. The architect is the creative visionary; the project manager is the person tasked with co-ordinating suppliers and service providers so as to bring the vision in on time, in budget, to the client’s satisfaction. Architects tend to want more than they can have. “No, we can’t use those bricks,” a project manager will say, “they’re too expensive.” Architects reckon they are in charge; project managers know they are. Architects often feel that the tail is wagging the dog.

Not unlike the relationship between a celebrant and an undertaker, perhaps?

An analysis by Gerrit Muller of Buskerud University College highlights the differences between celebrants and undertak… I mean, architects (A) and project managers (PM). In a comparison of caricature characteristics of both parties, Muller suggests that:

A = independent, PM = conformist; A = critical, PM = demanding; A = curious, PM = control minded.

Leadership values.  A = based on knowledge and vision; PM = based on key performance indicators – title creates expectations – task-driven. 

Goal.  A = best possible solution; PM = highest hierarchical level. 

Design. A = elegant; PM = if it works it’s okay. 

Application.  A = perfect fit; PM = no complaints. 

Changes.  A = fact of life; PM = avoid changes. 

In order to get the best from the relationship, Muller proposes:

Empowerment

Delegation

Leadership instead of task-driven management

Process orientation instead of hierarchical organizations

Teamwork

Mutual Respect

Recognition of diversity and nonconformity

Reverse Appraisal

Stimulating open communication

 

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