Who’s working for who?

Charles 3 Comments

Secular funeral celebrants cling to the fiction that they work for their clients. They don’t. Their clients get to choose the coffin they want (they might go for something really expensive) but they don’t get to choose their celebrant, they get lumped with their celebrant. Celebrants work for funeral directors, who hold them in dependency.

That’s how the funeral directors see it. According to a report in the Funeral Service Journal (June 2010), Stephen Benson, civil celebrant, recently attended a meeting of the British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD). “A straw poll revealed that he had actually conducted a ceremony for over half the members present in the room.” This sentence tickles me. It makes it sound as if half of the undertakers present were dead. Perhaps they were.

Occasionally a celebrant will be contacted directly by a client, usually one who has seen the celebrant in action or received a recommendation from a friend. When this happened to me recently I was surprised when the funeral director came up to me after the funeral and said, “Thank you so much for doing this for us.” I won’t tell you what words I leashed in tightly behind my indulgent smile.

Unlike coffins, celebrants are available on the open market and can be inspected, rejected and selected at funeralcelebrants.org.uk. Recommended.


  1. Charles

    A friend asked me to be celebrant for her dead dad. She chose the one funeral director I’d have cautioned her against, because he ‘did’ her mum and she and Dad were pleased with him – he’s affable enough on the surface, but bad-mouths others when you get to know him better.

    ’nuff said about that, but… she introduced me to him outside the crematorium on the day, after I’d failed several times to get a courtesy call through to him and he hadn’t tried to contact me, and said:
    “This is Jonathan. He’s conducting Dad’s ceremony.”

    Unambiguous enough? No, apparently. I was wearing a white suit and carrying a folder with the script, couldn’t have been less inconspicuous standing right beside him when he looked at his watch and said:
    “The vicar hasn’t come yet.”

    “Who’s working for who?” We were all, as far as I could see, working for him in his opinion – including the family.

  2. Charles

    H’m. Even if it’s FDs who allocate us, and even if it is difficult to get to people’s attention in any other way, we have to make sure in our heads that we are working for and with the family and the people at the funeral. Whatever the cash nexus may be.

    Maybe it’s a bit like an actor’s agent – the agent lines up the job, and recommends one actor instead of another, but if the actor isn’t doing the work for the audience, then s/he is pretty useless. (Alright, I know agents don’t start, supervise and end the show, you think of a better example then.)

    If the cash nexus makes us unhealthily dependent on FDs, then we are doing it solely for the money. When I take over, such celebrants will be summarily executed. It’s nice to be paid, but if that’s WHY you do it, you’re dead.

    Classic from Jonathan. I think I’m fairly lucky so far in my FDs, though there are a couple I don’t want to work with anymore, including Mr Sit with his legs crossed looking bored out of the window, and Mr Of Course I’m always late because I’m important. But that’s a moral problem – if I pass it on to a colleague, the FD will be just the same with them. If the FD can’t get a secular celebrant, what will the family get?

    Somehow and eventually, people need to think about the funeral and what if any help they want with it, before they finalise the FD. So the GFG needs to be sent to every home.

  3. Charles

    The problem you have is that as you say, the FD is almost your agent.

    However any funeral director worth his salt knows the worth of a good celebrant. A good celebrant makes the difference between a run of the mill funeral and an amazing funeral.

    The FD that doesn’t recognise that is the poorer for it.

    Keep it up guys!


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