Category Archives: celebrants

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

Yer gotta hav it!

Monday, 15 September 2014

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Guest post by John Porter

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Anyone who says to me “You have to”, I nearly always reply with “why?” and then “why?” again!

The fact is I don’t have to do anything. I can choose whether to or not – that’s different. “Not so,” I hear some say, “you have to have car insurance – it’s the law!” Well, as a magistrate I can safely say that many people who have appeared before me have chosen not to have it (or can’t get it as they are disqualified – much more serious m’lud – “take him down” I hear!). The repercussions are great – fines and increased cost of policies being just two, but the fact remains they had a choice, exercised it, broke the law and either did or did not have to face the consequences. Some offenders weigh up the risks and simply see being caught as an occupational hazard!

Let me turn to the issue that is on my mind as a funeral celebrant. “You need insurance”. There it is again. “Why?”, I ask.

Well someone might sue you if you get the deceased’s/other key names wrong or if you don’t make it to the funeral ceremony on time.

Do these questioners really understand the legal concept of negligence? The question is likely to be asked by funeral directors before taking on a new funeral celebrant. “Five million is the usual cover” I have heard some say. The “flavour” is usually public liability which I think is rather odd. I am a guest in peoples’ homes when I interview them and a professional celebrant at a chapel or wherever that I have no legal responsibility for. So is this right? If not, then is it professional indemnity? This goes back to the negligence issue and could be pretty tricky to prove.

I asked an insurance expert (not impartial) who advises funeral celebrants about this and he said:

“I have had many conversations with Insurers and Civil Celebrants on the question of Professional Indemnity as opposed to Public Liability and would comment as follows: The usual basic cover wording for Professional Indemnity Insurance is as follows –

 ‘To indemnify The Insured, subject to the indemnity limit and excess, against any claim for any civil liability which arises out of the conduct of professional business by reason of any negligent act, negligent error or negligent omission occurring or committed in good faith by the insured and or others expressly authorised to act for or on behalf of the insured.’ 

Other similar wordings are sometimes used but the essence remains the same and the full cover of course includes defence costs, intellectual property etc. etc. but the above extract is the clause that needs explanation as regards Civil Celebrants. 

The words ‘civil liability’ are important as this means that a Court has to agree that a Celebrant has been negligent – it would not be the case that an insurer would simply pay a Celebrant the cost of a missed funeral for the client to be reimbursed by the Celebrant. The Celebrant’s client would have to prove in Court that the Celebrant was liable and had been negligent. I imagine that this would perhaps cause more upset than the original missed appointment or late arrival etc. Secondly there is always an excess on the policy which may be higher than the cost of the funeral although perhaps if the whole event was cancelled there may be other costs involved but it is still possible that the total financial loss would fall within the excess. 

If a funeral did proceed late or at a later date, I do not think the Court would be able to agree on a financial or emotional loss. Negligence has to be proved in Court and insurers feel this would be neigh on impossible to quantify. 

In essence then John, my feeling, and that of insurers, is that the risk of Public Liability is far greater than that of Professional Indemnity and it is the case that many crematoria and halls hired for the purpose of a funeral or function are now insistent on the hirer or organizer having a valid Public Liability policy in force before hiring the premises in case of accident or damage.” 

They can insist for all they like as far as I’m concerned – I am not the hirer of a crematorium but a contracted disbursement of the funeral director – the person who hires is the client. “Ah, but then we won’t take you on” – a mild threat that hovers in the background in funeral parlours. It’s as clear as mud to me.

So what am I to do? It’s not a huge amount of money; I was quoted £120 for both types of insurance but I am struggling to see what the real risks are. Being a magistrate I’m a stickler for keeping my nose clean. This is different. There seems to be an implied sense of obligation for risks that are not, in my view, that great.

So: “I ain’t gotta hav it” may be my chosen course. Perhaps there are folk out there who can see the elephant standing behind me and set me on the straight and narrow path to insurance enlightenment!




Give others a chance to help pay for child funerals

Wednesday, 3 September 2014



What an interesting debate that was, the one about whether undertakers and celebrants should charge for the funerals of children. A great many people followed it silently; the 25 comments represent a tiny fraction of the overall readership.

The debate was not conducted on a level of dispassionate logic, so neither side prevailed, but the heart-over-head faction had the greatest numerical support.

Lucy defined a rationale for charging: “I understand completely why other funeral directors on here wouldn’t charge, but if we applied the same emotional response to every family who walked through the door, we wouldn’t be in business for very long … people die in exceptionally tragic circumstances every day … why don’t they get a free funeral?” 

Gloria Mundi defined the heart-over-head position: “We can’t charge according to some personal tragedy-meter. Rationally, I can see no reason for not charging, but ‘the heart also has its reasons.’”

X Piry agreed: “On a logical level, I know that charging is the right thing to do, but it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

Any cool-headed rationalist will be driven potty by all this. If the parents of children who have died are worthy of financial help then, by the same measure, so too, surely, are those adults who, in Wendy Coulton’s words, “have become full time devoted carers of a relative who has been in their life for over 50 years. They are often living on the breadline because they gave up work to look after their loved one. Their loss is profound, not only for the person who has died but their own identity and sense of purpose. They have no concessions on funeral costs.

Why not? Because they don’t tug at the heartstrings in the same way, obviously. And what this inconsistency illustrates is that, while some causes are more glamorous than others, the less glamorous are no less deserving. This accounts for why, for example, Help for Heroes has raised a sum approaching £200 million for wounded servicemen, but charities who work with the disproportionate number of ex-servicemen who are in prison or sleeping rough struggle to raise anything at all. Research into breast cancer fundraises more effectively than prostate cancer. This is mostly down to relative anatomical attractiveness.

For all their robustness, rational arguments don’t win converts. It’s the way of the world. But let’s at least not kid ourselves: funeral poverty in the wider population is a cause of equal value.

Where we can probably agree is that what all parents of children who have died value more than anything else are the abstract qualities of compassion, kindness and support.

The same as for all bereaved people.

We can agree that these are not qualities most articulately or effectively expressed by knocking a bit off a bill. Yes?

But what some (not all) parents of children who have died also value is ‘concrete’ help with paying the bill.

As do lots of other bereaved people.

In the matter of children’s funerals there are almost certainly lots of people unconnected with the funerals business who would like to help.

The new Child Funeral Charity enables them to do this. Undertakers and celebrants can give them a chance to chip in by publicising it and sharing the load.

Anne Barber, trustee of the CFC, writes:

The charity will be giving financial help to families who cannot afford to pay for their child or baby’s funeral, referred to us by professionals who work with them, (probably including most of the readers of this blog!). The payments will start from October 1st. Not only payments, but access to suppliers who are prepared to help by giving their products and services at cost or free. We are working hard to fundraise and are optimistic that the families who we can help will be the ones who really do need the help.

We know that the Social Fund is meant to help those on benefits to pay for funerals but as yet they have declined to tell us how many funerals for those under 16 they actually pay anything towards. Not many, we suspect, we will persevere until we get some statistics. But let’s not re-open the Social Fund debate.

The families we believe we will help the most are those who might be in work but are young and on low incomes, some even teenagers themselves, with absolutely no savings or hope of paying for a funeral. Often family, especially grandparents step in, but often they can’t.

The costs they might have to pay, as so rightly already pointed out here, vary enormously and they won’t know that if they went to a different funeral director or a different crematorium it could be less. Some funeral directors we have spoken to do far more than give their professional services, they actually pay ALL the fees for the family, so families do not spend one penny.

Overall we have been overwhelmed by the support that is out there and that we have been encountered already. Health professionals have contacted us keen to use the service and we have had calls from those rejected by the Social Fund as they aren’t on the ‘right type’ of benefits.

Our challenge is to make sure that we help in cases of real need. We will do our very best.

At last, another celebrant trainer

Friday, 8 August 2014



A flurry of forwarded emails flies into our inbox. “What do you think of this?!?” they all demand.


The NFFD’s freshly launched celebrant training venture. The consensus is that it stinks.

What do we think? Well, let’s have a look.

The NFFD’s given reason for entering the celebrant training market is “growing demand”. Some will question whether, in a supersaturated market, there is any demand whatever. The answer is that market forces may confidently be relied upon to eliminate the less competent. There’s always room at the top.

What quality assurance can the NFFD offer? Selection for training is via “a telephone screening process”. The course, which seems not to be externally accredited, has been “Designed and developed in close conjunction with a number of industry experts” none of whom is named. The course is delivered at an intriguing venue, “our private church chapel” by “Rev Victor Johnson … an Ordained Priest of the Church of England” with “over 20 years’ experience conducting contemporary, civil-celebrant funeral ceremonies.”

The NFFD reckons that “funeral directors … are ideally placed to perform this valuable, satisfying, and lucrative, [celebrancy] role,” which sort of makes you wonder why they never thought of it before. The NFFD adds: “if public speaking isn’t for you, but you have a more confident driver, bearer, or other member of staff, why not give them an opportunity to develop their skills by enrolling them on the course instead?” Whoa, there’s one from out of left field.

The NFFD reckons “There’s rarely more than an hour or two’s work involved” in researching and writing a funeral ceremony. Our view is that if a celebrant were to use a laminated script on which he or she simply rubbed out an old name and wrote in a new one, that time could be halved. There are a lot of celebrants who reckon a bespoke funeral takes at least 10 hours to write but, let’s face it, they’re making a bit of a meal of it, aren’t they? You can’t be any good if you find it that difficult.

The NFFD is keen to help its celebrants to maximise their business. Projected earnings are given as “between £100 and £200 per hour,” a rate they describe as “incredibly lucrative”. Isn’t it, just? And if that isn’t enough, “You will also be invited to attend a one-day course FREE OF CHARGE to teach you how to supplement your income through the sale of pre-paid funeral plans. Given the environment that celebrants routinely work in, selling funeral plans is a brilliant way for you to easily generate an extra £500 – £1500 per week on top of your earnings as a straightforward celebrant.” There aren’t many vocations that make you this sort of dough.

The NFFD has made a name for itself as a creatively disruptive force in a highly conservative industry. It has certainly made feathers fly.

It has exposed itself to market forces and consumer scrutiny, which may be trusted, we think, to do their Darwinian work.

If you wish to comment, please be aware that the NFFD is retributive in the matter of libel.


Responsibility for your own conduct

Tuesday, 8 July 2014



By celebrant Wendy Coulton of Dragonfly Funerals

The Plymouth Herald ran a story recently about a family complaint that the funeral service for their relative was disrupted by the loud and distracting sound of laughter and conversation outside by a large number of people waiting to attend the next funeral. They included senior leading council figures because the funeral was of a former councillor.

Instead of holding their hand up and unreservedly apologising for any upset they caused, one councillor blamed the crematorium staff for not marshalling the crowd properly and the council statement said this was an issue they would take up with the funeral director. This just added insult to injury to the family who said their funeral was spoilt.

I was incensed that the crematorium staff were the scapegoat and was delighted when the Herald ran my letter prominently with the headline ‘Take responsibility for your own conduct.’ Grown adults shouldn’t need to be reminded or marshalled on how to behave in a cemetery outside a chapel when they know a service is being conducted.

It is a challenge managing large numbers of attendees at the council crematoria because of the back to back service activity and limited areas to congregate but at the end of day it may come down to that simple saying ‘Silence is golden.’ The wake reception may be the better time for banter and a good chat.

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