The labourer is worthy his/her hire

Charles Cowling

While I was well out of it last week on my guano-spattered rock set in a silver sea, the militant wing of this blog’s readership did a number on Lovingly Managed. It seems to have ended in either mutual exasperation or bewilderment. Probably a bit of both. Heavy breathing, for sure.

Perhaps the greatest dialectical damage was wrought by Rupert with a deadly weapon requisitioned from the Marxists. He epitomised the views of the anti-LovinglyManaged camp when he accused LM of commodification. Commodification, let me remind you, is taking something commonly offered for nothing and charging for it – helping blind people cross the road, for example. Gloriamundi echoed this: I think there’s a need for objective, up-to-date low-cost or free advice and information on how to proceed when someone dies, before FDs, Lovingly Managed, or people like me, get anywhere near the bereaved. A service not a business.

To all appearances this was a battle between altruism and avarice. But I’m not so sure that it was. I think that the three businesslike, intelligent and vocation-driven women behind Lovingly Managed could be earning a heck of a lot more doing something that brings them much less satisfaction.

One thing I am pretty certain of, though, is that altruism isn’t necessarily the force for good that it may, dare I say, self-righteously reckon itself to be.

There is a widespread, kindly belief in the funeral industry that bereaved are too easily exploited and must be considered exempt from market forces. This prompts two questions:

What then is a fair rate for the job?

What is the effect of low pay on levels of service?

The upside of things as they are is that the industry attracts a great many damn fine people who value service to fellow men and women way above the slavering pursuit of fast-moving consumer goods.

The downside is that it also attracts well-meaning do-gooders of questionable value but unjustifiably high self-worth.

And while some bereaved people need to be treated incredibly carefully and kindly, others do not, because they can look after themselves. While we’re about it, let’s not underestimate the responsibility that the bereaved have for themselves, because that’s a responsibility no one else can shoulder.

Kindness isn’t always as kind as it looks. The bereaved must not be patronised, infantilised or kept helpless by those whose apparent altruism masks dark neediness and other baleful if not barking psychological issues. Definitively not among these is any member of the militant wing of the GFG commentariat.

Vocation will always be a more valuable qualification in this industry than greed. For all that, nice guys famously don’t win ball games and they’re not winning this one. It is the greedy undertakers who are winning the battle for market share with their aggressive selling of financial products, funeral plans and their latest magic trick, the standardised quirky, individualised funeral. It’s called commoditisation and its outcome ought to be falling prices – but things are rarely economically orthodox in the death business.

As things stand, I am not aware of florists, printers or caterers pulling their punches financially with the bereaved. Undertakers do just about all right in a market depressed both by many punters’ low expectations of a funeral and also by an oversupply of undertakers. I am aware of many undertakers who could charge more, but don’t. I’m not going into grief counselling because I know almost nothing about it.

It’s secular celebrants I worry about. Financial rewards in this sector are terribly low for those who put in the time and care a good funeral needs. And of all jobs in the funeral industry, this one calls for especially high levels of a range of qualities which include emotional intelligence, literacy and performance skills – a rare combination.

Those who possess these qualifications can work for good money in the real world. Some, like Gloriamundi, are happy to work as a celebrant for the prevailing low rate for reasons which he/she gives over at her/his blog. Some are able to fund their habit with another income stream – a pension, often. This is a job you need to be able to afford to do if you’re going to do it properly.

Which is why many potential celebrants calculate the hourly rate, find they’d be better off at B & Q, then go do something else. Lost to the cause.

Up in Leeds OneLife Ceremonies, a mother and daughter team, have just launched their new website. I like these two a lot, they have energy, intelligence and spirit – they’re a cut above. They are looking to make a living out of celebrancy of all sorts, and why not? We need them. Having costed things carefully and not avariciously they have arrived at a fee for a funeral of a perfectly fair £275. Are they going to get any work at that rate? You tell me.

So here’s my proposition. Those celebrants who are presently undervaluing themselves financially are devaluing celebrancy by deterring good people from entering. By doing so they are leaving the door open for those of lower calibre who race about doing too far many funerals for their own good or anybody else’s. This is the inexorable Law of the Lowest Common Denominator.

Like any industry, the death industry only works well if people get paid properly.

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charlesDally MessengerDavid BarringtonKathryn EdwardsCharles Cowling Recent comment authors

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Dally Messenger
Guest

This is a strange experience for me. To see all the thoughts we have been arguing for 30 years start up again!

David Barrington
Guest

I’m really not sure that your comments regarding FD’s are valid in this case. In my area, my local Humanist Celebrant costs £150 which is more expensive than the Religious Ministers Fee of £120 but not as expensive at the Civil Funeral Celebrant which is £195. I don’t push a family to have a religious service because of the cost of the humanist guy, in fact the cost isn’t really an issue they can have whichever celebrant they want. As with my own business, the best marketing tool you have is yourselves, sadly trying to explain to a family when… Read more »

Kathryn Edwards
Guest
Kathryn Edwards

Re priests: there’s a category error concerning costs and prices here. Surely what the (e.g.) C of E charges is a facility fee rather than a fee for the work, which is frequently discharged by a someone in a stipended role? Those of us who operate ‘free-range’ have no premises and no underpinning stipend. Re healthy ration of funeralling: personally I wouldn’t want to do more than one a week. That’s a function of the intensity of my engagement in my particular modus operandi. Some celebrants do what I think of as ‘celebrant lite’, and therefore could perhaps discharge more… Read more »

Charles Cowling
Guest

My apologies, Maria. Thank you for clarifying that.

Maria, One Life Ceremonies
Guest

Ah, actually my prophesy about the IoCF training was based on evidence of past behaviour and nowt to do wi bad blood (tho many moons ago I, in genuine innocence, called IoCC to enquire about possibility of me doing their Registrar training – why not!? – and was greeted with snorts of derision). In fact, the IoCC/CF have strong links with some Registry offices who use them to do Namings and Vow Renewals and also recommend them for civil funerals, so it’s not a huge leap to training in-house co-op celebrants, is it?

gloriamundi
Guest
gloriamundi

The church may not charge for funerals, Paul, but the vicar/minister/priest certainly does. Charles, I think you might be exaggerating a little, no doubt to call forth comments from people like me! (And I fall for it every time.) I don’t find much in the way of fear loathing and backbiting between my immediate colleagues and other secular celebrants, though I do find an institutional attitude of competition in the BHA itself – we “should” be getting a higher proportion of funerals given the % of people who don’t follow a religion, etc. A waste of time and effort. What… Read more »

Paul Hensby
Guest

A most interesting blog and comments which I’ve followed with interest. Quite coincidentally a CoE minister contributed a piece for My Last Song which repudiates the ‘God-lite’ approach. He finished by saying that his church doesn’t charge for funerals to show their ‘sympathy and love’. http://www.mylastsong.com/advice/15113/113/107/funerals/christian-funerals/solving-the-funeral-dilemma. I’ve blogged on the piece http://blog.mylastsong.com/2010/11/08/christian-funerals-uncompromised-by-secular-content-and-family-participation/

Rupert Callender
Guest

We don’t charge anything to take the service, and don’t take anything off if we don’t. Weirdly arbitary, as of course it takes many many more hours to do it than not. Not entirely sure why it is like this, took us ten years of doing it to spot it at all. Does mean that we keep it in house, useful for a control freaky couple like ourselves, and also means we keep our costs down, but I agree with Belinda, Kathryn et all, everything else means diddly squat if the ceremony isn’t up to scratch. Well done you Belinda.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Charles Cowling, Maria & Laurra Nalty. Maria & Laurra Nalty said: Why celebrants aren't charging enough and why One Life Ceremonies are leading the way in changing ceremony fees forever! http://ow.ly/35Fu8 […]

gloriamundi
Guest
gloriamundi

This has been really valuable. So: how do ritualists (nice one)get round the FDs and lead the whole thing? As Jonathan says, easier to hold forth about it than to do something about it. Ritualists at present are unlikely to form a common front because they are too anxious about “the competition.” i.e. retired clergy vs BHA vs Civil Celebrants, etc. Practical, tactical suggestions needed, in order to lead slowly to a major change of emphasis.

Kathryn Edwards
Guest
Kathryn Edwards

I have walked away from this issue. But the engagement of treasured colleagues here entices me back towards it. It is clear to me that the ‘psychic environment’ of the ritual is the most important thing. Taking that idea for testing to a Sartre-style extreme, I’d say that one really could do something more significant at a bus-stop with the right attitude than in some gleaming hall with just a focus on the material trappings. But yes, the whole thing IS currently configured the wrong way round. Instead of the bereaved being invited to consider the appropriate ritual, they are… Read more »

Belinda Chapman
Guest

Mmm, tomorrow I raise my fee to £275. I currently charge £200 and in ten years I have never had anyone choose not to use me as a Celebrant because of how much I charge. For some reason I have not been brave enough to up my fees but after reading the above inspiring comments I’m going to do it. I have found if I do not charge enough for my time I begin to resent the family I’m supporting which is totally unfair on them. FD’s need to realise the ceremony is the public face of their company, if… Read more »

X.Piry
Guest

This is an interesting post and one close to my heart as I contemplate whether or not to increase my fees next year. There are so many factors – for example, my home town is dominated by two retired clergy who will do any type of ceremony from high church to god-lite and, in some cases, “god very lite” and will do so for the standard clergy fee (which is cheaper than my current rate). The local civil celebrants, on the other hand, charge more than I do, and have recently been recruiting, suggesting that they are expecting to take… Read more »

Maria, One Life Ceremonies
Guest

I hope that last wasn’t a portent of doom!

Maria, One Life Ceremonies
Guest

Now, that would be a solution…just persuade the Church to triple their fee…ah, but then the crem cowboys would still undercut everyone else! This is a subject that needs addressing and, thank you, Charles for bringing it into the public arena. In case you’re wondering, we do get very few FDs offering us to families at £275 (though, there are plenty who would certainly use us if we were £100 cheaper). As Charles says, we have (a degree of) ‘energy, intelligence and spirit’ and we see our pricing as a small step forward, if nothing else because it’s bringing the… Read more »

louise
Guest

That blog really resonates with me and sentiment DVDs and other products too. I think fair play to onelife – you are right it’s a good price. I have set a client right in the past when she complained not just about the cost of one of our DVDs but went on to complain about the cost of her celebrant I was mystified… she was spending thousands and thosands on a shitty coffin and complained about the £150 for the celebrant and £175 for a DVD Grrrr!!! I have been told 2 years running by my business link adviser to… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

PS: I like your new blog supplier, Charles – he evidently thinks I’m worth repeating!

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

A hike to £275 would put my hourly rate up from £9.50 to an almost equally risible £15.00. I’d pay someone as good as me at least £30 an hour, but that would commit me to £555 for my celebrant – almost as much as the cremation. But even £275 is an un-dreamable-of-able amount for a secular celebrant as things stand. Why? I’d be surprised if the Church couldn’t get away with trebling THEIR fee overnight. Many funeral directors would just grumble, then shrug and pass the cost on – the vicar’s widely perceived to be as much a standard… Read more »

gloriamundi
Guest
gloriamundi

You excel yourself, Charles – the limestone isle bringeth forth wisdom, verily. Many, many thanks for a lot of thoughts. Interestingly, £275 is about the figure a couple of BHA celebrants came up with recently as a realistic fee compared with other services and with the total cost of a funeral. There’s the proper level of debate and consideration around altruism/income needs, quality/pricing etc, then there’s the grubby business of tactics – if we raise our prices will . . .etc. Maybe it’s a matter of raising expectations amongst the public. If we charged more, maybe they would expect more… Read more »

yourfuneralguy
Guest

The greedy ones ruin it for the idealistic ones In The USA- whether Funeral Director or Celebrant.

Funeral professionals deserve more than a living wage because of the service they provide. Here in the USA Traditional and low cost providers are taking a bi hit due to the economy and past greed.

Your Funeral Guy- Low cost funeral advocate