Category Archives: celebrants

Celebrant of the Year 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

This category attracted the largest number of nominees and entries, resulting in almost 30 finalists. It is also the one the judges find most daunting to decide, as they know how important it is to be recognised for what can often be a very lonely role.

Without exception, all finalists in this category are deserving of recognition for the impact they make on the families they work for. Having to select a winner and runner up from so many excellent celebrants was an almost impossible task, and took many hours of reading testimonials and entries.

The final winner was chosen for the obvious calibre of their celebrancy skills, along with the superb presentation of their entry and the level of detail and care put into it, which, the judges believe, indicates an attention to detail that will be paid to every funeral.

The winner is Justine Wykerd

Three runners up are Kathryn Sansom, Stuart Preston and Wendy Coulton

The judges would like to highly commend Terri Shanks for her work both as a celebrant and for training and nurturing other celebrants.


Photograph by Jayne Lloyd

Category Sponsor: Civil Ceremonies

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations



A Serious Cause for Concern

Thursday, 23 February 2017

It has come to our attention here at GFG Towers that some particularly bad practice is taking place on social media, compromising the integrity of funeral celebrancy as a profession.

Whilst recognising that funeral celebrancy can be lonely work and there is a real need for support from colleagues, it’s suggested that anyone discussing their work online in peer-support groups is aware of the following:

Facebook groups, even if closed, are not private. Don’t share anything in a Facebook group that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of a national newspaper. Posts can easily be replicated and shared outside of the group.

Never breach client confidentiality. Be wary of discussing situations in anything but the vaguest of terms. No identifying information should ever be shared.

Never reveal the identities of people attending funerals. Respect mourners’ right to privacy, no matter who they are.

Be mindful of the advice you’re given by peers.

Whilst fully supporting colleagues in sharing their strength, hope and experience online, please exercise caution, discretion and professionalism at all times.


Celebrant of the Year

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


Stevie Glover

From a huge field of contenders for this award, this year’s Celebrant of the Year was chosen for her genuine likeability as well as her exceptional professionalism.

Highly regarded by fellow deathcare staff and affectionately referred to in the testimonials from families she has helped, Stevie’s caring support up to and throughout the funeral is matched only by the unassuming way she slips out of the door when her job is done. It’s not her style to accept any gratitude or thanks shaking hands afterwards, she believes the attention should be for the gathered grieving family.

Unflappable, smart, articulate and with crystal clear delivery, she has the rare ability to produce a bespoke service for each family without cutting and pasting from other ceremonies and is described by funeral directors as serene, calming, soothing and gentle in her presentation.

One funeral director told her that if a particular family’s request for her to use bad language in the ceremony was too much, he would turn the job down rather than cause her any distress. She didn’t mind, she had spent years editing ‘arse’ jokes in her previous job.

Stevie worked as production manager for Viz magazine for 20 years until she was made redundant in 2012 when she was in her fifties. Her relationship with Viz magazine dates from 1992 when she starred in a photo story alongside Harry Enfield. She said “I think they kept me on so long because I could spell diarrhoea and they couldn’t.”

Finding herself redundant in her fifties, Stevie’s first thought was to train as a funeral director “because I like making things right for people and I’m not too squeamish.” Instead she trained as a funeral celebrant – and never looked back: “At the beginning, I thought the funeral directors were saving the best families for me, because they were all so lovely. I don’t know if it’s that people in extreme situations behave well, but they tell me such wonderful stories about the departed that my only regret is I can’t meet them. I’d love to have a cup of tea with them!”

Stevie attends Sunday Assembly in Newcastle where she recently gave an address on death.

Stevie has no idea who nominated her for this award.


Runners Up:         Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and Pat Winslow

The judges also gave special thanks to Diana Gould for her pioneering work with baby funerals over many years.

Look what’s waiting to land in your e-book library…..

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Adventures in Funeralworld

Fresh out of the box and ready for reading, here’s the e-book that is essential for the library of anyone with an interest in anything funereal.

Or actually anyone with an interest in life.

Enough said.

Published today.

Buy it here.


The soft bigotry of low expectations

Friday, 6 May 2016



Posted by May Andrews

“If we can just get through this, then we can get on with our lives.”

I’ve heard it so many times, in so many different ways, but it all boils down to this: many families perceive a funeral to be something they must endure, an unpleasant trial, which they must ‘get out of the way’ before the real process of healing can begin.

And we can’t really blame them. There remains a taboo around death, such that, when called upon to confront it, people still feel a sense of existential discomfort, as if they have stepped onto forbidden soil. As a celebrant, I see it almost every day: the apprehension in the faces of the guests who have just entered the chapel. What is going to happen? To whom has our loved one been entrusted? How should I behave?

If I can break through that dreadful self-awareness and allow each guest to experience a personal journey of memories and acceptance, both of the death and of their grief, then I have done my job.

Yet there are days when I feel I struggle against another great barrier – one that has developed out of this sense that, in a secular world, funerals are no more than trial and tribulation. And that barrier is low expectation.

I meet often with families who shrug and say, “oh, he’d have been happiest if we’d just wrapped him up and chucked him in the ground.” “He always said, once you’re dead, you’re dead.” And other such comments in this vein, usually suggesting that the family are enduring the funeral out of a sense of appropriate etiquette. The ritual has ceased to have meaning and, as such, I am often asked to ‘get it over with as quickly as possible.’

If that is what people want then that is what I shall give them, but more often than not, I find that, once we begin, families find solace, not only in the ceremony itself but in its creation and planning. Seeing them discover this very often gives me a renewed faith in what I do.

On the other hand, I am aware that, if the public continue to have a broad belief that the content of the ceremony is of less importance than getting it done, then our industry has a problem. If the public expect empty ritual, then on the occasions that they ARE confronted with empty ritual, they are far less likely to complain. As such, unlike any other industry, the funeral industry has less motivation to change, evolve and improve. One only has to look at the sharp increase in direct cremations to see where this might lead.

There are celebrants out there who use cut and paste services and only change the name of the deceased. There are celebrants who don’t even take the time to visit the family. There are also excellent celebrants who go above and beyond. But while public expectations from a funeral are low, there will remain little incentive to weed out those of a poorer quality. By way of example, I can paraphrase from a private online group (luckily this celebrant was in the US, so I can but hope they are not representative of the UK): “I always write weddings from scratch, but funerals? I don’t have time for those. I just change the name.”

I use this example because it points to a vast divide in public attitude to tradition and ritual. People rarely just want to get weddings over and done with! They are an important rite of passage, and a time of celebration.

…Which brings me back to my very first quote, “If we can just get through this, then we can get on with our lives.”

The key is in these words, which upon first glance, seem so negative, so lacking in expectations. Yet they are key to understanding, not only what people need from a funeral, but the standards to which the industry needs to aspire, in order to rid itself of the idea that what we do is merely proper etiquette.

As celebrants, we have a responsibility to show people that they need not be passive observers of an empty ritual, but if a funeral is done right, they will be active participants in the very process that allows them to ‘get on with [their] lives,’ by helping them to manage and accept the changes that the death of a loved one can bring.

Stick to what you know

Wednesday, 8 April 2015



Guest post by Vita Incerta

Was I alone in reading The Times journalist, Janice Turner’s piece about the funeral of her Godmother? In a rip roaring and impassioned annihilation, she tore apart the ‘crass, vain, sloppy buffoon’  who led her Godmother’s service. 

This wasn’t some half baked celebrant, nor a clueless member of the clergy. It was a Funeral Director. The ritual was held at the  FD’s premises. 

Addressing those gathered in ‘the jocular tone suitable for a boozy Rotarian lunch’, in his opening words he waxed lyrical about the lovely spread of sandwiches awaiting the mourners afterwards. Some ten minutes passed before Ms Turner heard her Godmother’s life mentioned as he extolled the virtues of his undertaking firm. Ms Turner knew that he had spoken with those closest to her Godmother, but it became quickly evident that – anathema to a journalist – he had taken no notes. The FD compounded his foolishness by making errors about Ms Turner’s Godmother that were corrected by those attending. He then argued with his audience about the date of VE Day…and so it went on. It is such a shame that the article is behind a paywall. 

But I take notes and pre prepare my eulogy. E mail or snail mail or hand deliver my draft to those closest and they are encouraged to add, subtract, revise to their heart’s content.  Every unknown fact: be it the date of VE Day, the merits of one dance hall over another, the name of the grocer in the High Street fifty years ago; all are checked and rechecked against local history books and websites and consultations with a few wise local buffers, who are generous of mind and spirit and have the time to help me get these things right, if I come up against a brick wall. 

To those who see no merit in paying a different speaker to lead a funeral ceremony for one who, in life, they have loved…caveat emptor. Plan this carefully and appreciate that we all have our limits. I would no sooner suggest that I could conceivably sport a morning coat and brandish a stick with the élan of some FDs, nor embalm to make someone appear as if in repose, than I would attempt an Argentinean Tango, given that I struggle to walk down a flight of stairs without hanging grimly on to both sides. 

I am not all things to all men, rathermore a passionate gobsh*te (Thanks, GM) attempting to offer some small salve to families whose needs might  otherwise be shoddily met. Why on earth should  Funeral Directors consider themselves any different ? 


Empathy and sympathy – what’s the difference?

Monday, 5 January 2015



Posted by John Porter

Sometimes the boundaries of the definitions of these two words, empathy and sympathy, become fuzzy. 

They become fuzzy for good reasons. This is from Confessions of a Funeral Director, which is often mentioned in GFG posts, entitled 10 Marks of a good funeral director

8. Empathy and sympathy. 

Imagine being at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. Peer up to the top of the hole and you might see some of your friends and family waiting for you, offering words of support and encouragement.  This is sympathy; they want to help you out of the pit you have found yourself in. This can assist, but not as much as the person who is standing beside you; the person who is in that hole with you and can see the world from your perspective; this is empathy.  — Dr Nicola Davies 

There are times (at funerals especially) when all we can give is sympathy.  When it’s outside of our ability to fully empathize with a person’s situation.  After all, the person laying in the casket isn’t my father.  This isn’t my daughter.  This isn’t my family. 

And that’s our job.  You pay us to be directors. And we couldn’t handle much more.  We have to maintain a certain level of objectivity because there’s only so much pain, grief and heartache we can share until we too start to crash … burn out. 

But, there’s other times when you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative, so that you enter the narrative and become a character in the story.  Not just a director, but an actual character in the drama of life and death. 

Knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy and having the ability of to use both is what can separate an average funeral director from a good one.   

I know that the ability to use both is important for funeral celebrants too. One of the things I do when someone is contributing to a ceremony (or a song/music is being played) I’m leading is to sit down in a chair that I have deliberately placed. It is a comfortable distance away from the person speaking. It faces forward. This means that I am no longer the focus of attention but have a clear angled line of sight to the person/s. It allows the person/s contributing to take the stage. Some ministers and celebrants stand nearby facing the mourners or at an angle. I have my back to the mourners. I am still leading the event but am now the backup guy in case the person falters. If they do I subtly lean forward, as if to say in silence “go on you can do it” without taking over. If they can’t continue then I’ll read it for them – if it’s a person singing I’ll read the rest if appropriate. So far I have not had to take over. 

Stuff happens to me in that chair whether it’s for 30 seconds or three minutes. If everything fine it gives me a physical break even though I give the contributor/s 99% of my attention. In some ceremonies I become, fleetingly, a character in the story. It happened at my last funeral. A person was just about to read a poem and he introduced it by sharing a beautiful message from the person who died to her two daughters. He wept. Tears welled in my eyes. I was in the hole with him. I have several techniques to compose myself in an instant and I used one of them. He looked at me and I gently nodded with assurance and encouragement which helped him to continue and read the poem. 

If I only sympathise then I do not give the client everything they need. If I only empathise then I’m held in their drama. I think the poem reader saw my wet eyes. It didn’t matter because he knew that although I was with him in a hole I was at the top of the hole in an instant – not pulling him out but allowing him to draw on his own strength to climb out. 

It is an extraordinary privilege to assist another human being in this semi-private way in a ceremony with many others present but who are likely unaware of what I have described. 

Anyone like to comment on the other nine or add more to the list?

Local and community

Monday, 10 November 2014



Guest post by John Porter

My first job was in a local grocer’s shop. They boiled ham in their kitchen – hmmmm, I can smell it now – and would cut three special slices, carefully wrapped in greaseproof paper for Mrs Rogers who came in every Tuesday. She chatted for a while, nobody huffed and puffed if there was a queue. The shop was stacked with huge range of products – a small quantity of each. The tinned stock was kept in the garage and I would go back and forth with a wire basket to fill and line up the items like soldiers at Trooping The Colour! It was not a village, just a typical suburban town in the south east of England but you did not have to go far to meet someone who would say hello.

Wind forward to November 2014. The two crematoriums where I lead funeral ceremonies as a celebrant seem a million miles away in spirit from the town I grew up in. Despite the many souls that have been burned or buried there they feel soulless places. As hearses glide up each drive I have seen bemused faces, surprised to meet a stranger in black, donned with hat and cane. The family’s shock at seeing the coffin for the first time (the dead person was kept miles away) creates tears. With no limousine bringing the chief mourners the out of town funeral director tries to work out who the client is. They often have to ask. How different when the person who opened the door of the funeral home is the person who processes in front of the dead!

I’m not harking back to some mystical sense of community but death certainly magnifies the lack of cohesion and tensions within families and communities. Families meet almost as strangers at hatching, matching and dispatching ceremonies. As so many of us know the letters, cards and telephone calls dry up after a few weeks and those left behind can suffer from a crippling loneliness, often left to cope on their own. No wonder people die of a broken heart. Families may live many miles from each other or in other countries that can prevent them from attending a funeral ceremony. This is a fact of modern living, often for economic reasons. Economics (okay, the will) often attracts them back and not always for the right reasons! The worst indicator of lack of community is when someone dies and no-one knows until the smell of rotting flesh becomes apparent or harbinger flies announce the fact. How awful!

As a celebrant I am in a strange and privileged position. I will definitely spend at least two hours with a family, often more, and usually in their own home. I will also speak with them on the telephone and via email before the ceremony to finalise the ceremony script and let them know everything is prepared. I’m there on the day before the funeral director arrives so can greet people and close family if they are not in the cortège. I will offer to return for a chat and coffee – not grief counselling! It is, and is most definitely not, “my” show yet I’m the guy at the front leading and supporting people who contribute. All this, of course, assumes a typical (on my patch) 30min slot at a crematorium chapel – less if a burial. Of course I am still a stranger. I do not know the person that died. I come from a different part of the country. It is extraordinary that families trust me to create and lead a funeral service for their dead loved one. I’m part of their community yet am not. I nearly always decline to attend gatherings afterwards. Does this make me a contradiction? No, but it is something I ponder on now and then.

When I started I visited the funeral directors on my patch. I soon realised that what I considered to be my local area was not shared by all. Only twelve miles away I was asked “Why have you come down here?… we use local celebrants and have done so for over 20 years”. I’m not going to unpick that very loaded statement but I must listen to what was being said. Walking in the high street I could sense that many people knew each other and I loved the villagey feel. In fact when I watch a Christmas True Movie from the USA something in me longs for the cosy community and the history oozing from the roads and buildings. Sentimental twaddle or is something else going on? Local cemeteries are a wonderful doorway to a town’s history. It is amazing to listen to older people tell stories that have been passed down through the generations. Here I go again getting all starry-eyed and soppy but a little bit of me longs for it. I really struggle to answer this question: “where are your roots”. I am a sojourner. I have friends scattered across the UK and the Globe.

As our poppies crumple and fall and we race towards Christmas I know that many funeral directors put up remembrance Christmas trees, write to clients and are involved with activities such as carol services etc. Others support local charities throughout the year. This helps them to feel part of a local community and may be good for business. Close communities can be great for repeat business if the service provided is good. Many people go with what they know and do not usually buy a funeral in the same way they would a car – looking at the market and researching before buying – though, hopefully this will change. This is where the independent family business has an advantage over the corporates. It is also risky in sustainability terms when business founders die and children or other family are not interested in funeral directing.

You may ask where is this blog going? I really cannot answer that… yet. I would like to start a conversation about this theme and will close now with a final thought. One of Aesop’s fables, The Fox and the Lion is summarised as “Familiarity breeds contempt”. This is a well-known saying. There is truth in it. If a funeral director or funeral celebrant only operates in a way that they are familiar and comfortable with then both they and clients miss out in the end. I recently saw a minister lead two funeral ceremonies one after the other – same poems recited perfectly and from the heart without reference to the text, same welcome and closing words. The tribute was different but each had a familiar ring to it – maybe mine do too!? The problem is that dying, death, funerals and grieving are generally unfamiliar to us until we are forced to engage with it. The cosyness, that feeling of belonging, being familiar with and part of a local community may breed contempt but if we are watchful and motivated to serve then it is something, I believe, we should work towards.

My first funeral

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

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Posted by John Porter

I think a personal reflective piece is in order following my delivery yesterday of my first fee-paying funeral ceremony as a recently qualified Funeral Celebrant. I will not forget it for several reasons.

The first reason is that I was sunning myself beside a swimming pool on a sun-drenched Greek island when I got the call from the funeral director on my mobile. I rarely answer it on holiday but for some reason decided to. I said “yes” without hesitation, took down the details and called the client straight away. The line sounded like a load of crickets having a tele-conference but we somehow managed to set up a meeting for the following Monday. The funeral was on Thursday. My mind started to tick. I sent a couple of emails and quickly established that the family did not want an order of service – phew! One obstacle out of the way with a tight timescale.

The interview went very well, I sent a draft script the next day and resolved a miscommunication between others about version of music – it pays to be very picky on this point! The son and grandson were both speaking during the ceremony about their matriarch’s character.  One would read, the other would do it off the cuff with some notes on his iPhone. I was not nervous about this as there were no funeral ceremonies to follow. 20-25 people would be there including 8 grandchildren which I was very pleased about.

Thursday 2nd October dawned a beautiful day. Chilly start but soon became unseasonably hot. The ceremony was at 2pm. I was working at the hospital until noon (p/t administrator in Transforming End of Life Care Team) and was fully prepared. I fancied lunch on the pier and then a short cycle ride to the crematorium – allowing 30 mins before the start to check everything. I was calm.

The second reason I will remember my first funeral is that 2nd October 2014 was my partner and I’s 21st anniversary – since we met. I was feeling very happy.

The third reason I will remember my first funeral is my accident! I left work as planned at noon and set off on my fold-up Brompton bicycle, suited, booted and tanned, to the bus stop for a ride to the pier. The sea beckoned. Within 30 seconds from leaving my office I cycled past a van that was blocking my way onto a grass verge and then suddenly hit a hardly visible hollow and summersaulted over the handlebars collapsing in an undignified heap! No-one came to my rescue as I guess they did not witness my acrobatics. Those first few seconds are very hard to recall. My first thought was “The funeral!”, the second “My clothes!” I scanned myself, nothing broken, no obvious holes in the suit – just a bit dusty. Phew! I did not notice the blood dribbling over my twisted Brompton. It was coming from the tip of my finger. “Right, back to base I think”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out into the sun’s heat, suit brushed, blood washed off, tie straightened, finger smartly decorated with a plaster, bikeless but reasonably relaxed. A bus and taxi (I don’t drive) got me to the crematorium 30 mins before the ceremony as planned. I determined not to mention any of this to anyone until after the ceremony. I could feel some pain in my elbow but dispatched some adrenalin to suppress its pleas for attention.

My ceremony script was in a folio that only just fitted into the lectern (worth checking this in advance methinks). Two buttons: one for music, I noticed later it activates an audible door bell to alert the chapel attendant to play a piece from a CD (quaint!); the other to close the curtains, well-positioned so that I needed to face the coffin to easily press it.

As I climbed into the pulpit to start the ceremony I saw an envelope from the funeral director with “fee for John Porter…” written on it. It was cash. It would be impossible to pick up during the ceremony without being noticed. I let it be and hoped it would become invisible to the family contributors. Mercifully they were too focussed on what they needed to say and appeared not to see it. Another phew!

I closed the ceremony, cued the music (that’s when I heard a distant doorbell chime), left the pulpit, bowed to the closed curtains and stepped into the heat once more. I did not feel relieved. I felt a profound sense of respect for the family that had lost their matriarch, gratitude for the trust they placed in me and overwhelmed by the privilege to help them say farewell.

The family said wonderful things to me. The funeral director said he would email the other FDs in the area as I had done such a good job. I felt very thankful.

The final reason why I remember my first funeral is because 30 minutes later I was sitting in the A&E department of the hospital I work in waiting for an X-ray on my extremely painful elbow. People were being rushed in with life threatening injuries and conditions. The circle of life. I was eating a very late lunch – not the one I anticipated earlier gazing out to sea from my favourite café on the pier.

That was my first funeral.


Friday, 26 September 2014

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Posted by John Porter

Strangeways prison, Manchester 1982, pre riot. I was a student on placement and during my first week asked an officer what the red and white cards meant outside each cell. “White means CofE and red is for ‘left-footers’ – Catholic.”  Nothing for Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or any other religious flavour! I saw “HIV” on two cards! The red/white categorisation was, of course, a gross generalisation. Many said CoE because there were no other options being offered. Default religion. Not far from the truth, as the CoE remains firmly intertwined with the establishment by statute. Thankfully, the Queen, as “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England” is not yet seen as a literal stone figurehead in churches! Continue reading

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