Are you a lightning rod?

Charles Cowling

The last time I directed you to the Hearth of Mopsus blog you were mostly pretty beastly about the writer, a clerk in holy orders who has the cure of souls in Swanvale Halt. Here’s what you said.

He’s actually a bit of a sweetie, and if you like reading clerics’ diaries (I do), then you might even want to follow him (as I do).

A year ago (I’ve been trawling his archive) he wrote this about funerals:

This week I’ve taken two big funerals at the crematorium, big enough to fill the chapel and some, attenders standing all round the sides and down the central aisle, and out into the narthex. The first was for a woman who died of an aggressive and nasty cancer in her forties, and naturally there was a lot of emotion. The second was for a man who was also only in his sixties, and carried a certain amount of intra-family tension; he was also a member of the ambulance service and so the local branch’s banner was carried ahead of the coffin and there was an honour guard of boys and girls in green Service overalls.

I was exhausted at the end of both these services. I feel increasingly that the priest acts as a spiritual lightning rod on these occasions, and that all the emotion present ends up channelled through you. The size of the funeral makes no difference: I’ve presided at big funerals where that sense of strain has not been present at all. Nor do tears, on their own, seem to be the deciding factor: some tearful funerals I’ve taken haven’t been charged in this way at all. There is something more subtle happening. It would be interesting to see whether humanist funeral celebrants have the same experience.

Do leave a comment either here or at the Hearth of Mopsus blog. I take humanists to include celebrants of all stripes.

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Jonathan
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Jonathan

For me it’s about being able to love the people we represent, more than simply serving them. There is a love between human beings that can show itself for just a moment and then move from our sight. But it does not die; it simply reflects the process of living in a human body, which only happens for a little while but stirs the ethers with passion and so leaves its lasting influence. Then, actively loving those who are trusting you to take control so they can lose it if they have to, you can talk to the place inside… Read more »

gloria mundi
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Correction to mine above, “minibrant” was I think Charles’, originally. Mine was “celebster.” Daft, perhaps, but nowhere near as disfunctional as “officiant.”

Rupert Callender
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Embrace it Vale, we’re priests, just not for Jesus. Death itself, perhaps?

gloria mundi
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Such clarity, Vale, thank you, I found this helpful and illuminating. I think you are right – whether they fully realise it or not, they are conferring on us a role that can have deep meaning for them – I mean the role itself, not just what we say. When I started, I was probably a bit too tight-lipped and impersonal (mostly nerves, perhaps); it slowly dawned on me that the audience can benefit from any way you can involve them there and then, even if you’re doing all the talking. This, it seems to me, comes from the way… Read more »

Vale
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Vale

I am too new to celebrancy (minibrancy?) to be able to contribute much to the conversation – too few experiences to feel comfortable about generalising…although I do recognise the experience; have felt a sudden gravity, where the silence deepens and the words seem to gain weight and meaning. It happened at a service just this Friday, when, unexpectedly, the atmosphere became very charged (I know I struggled a little to keep my composure) and, after, one of the family came up and thanked me for ‘holding it together’ for them. What I did want to comment on though was the… Read more »

Charles Cowling
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Yes, I hope there will be some more responses. I find that celebrants aren’t often all that good at confessional stuff. For example, those clients with whom you have had a very warm relationship who, as soon as it’s over, switch off the relationship at the mains. Very few are comfortable talking about that, preferring brave and cheerful talk about enduring gratitude and all my testimonals and cards of thanks. What HoM has pointed to is that peculiar Zone of Unaccountability that you only get in funerals. It’s a very rich and important seam – for those brave enough to… Read more »

gloria mundi
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..whereas we all know she killed by a hasp.
Thanks Charles, and in turn, you’re spot-on with those “bright but unreadable eyes,” and the uncomfortable self-questioning they inspire.

Hope some more minibrants make a comment, it’s an interesting area and relates I think to the sort of funerals that for example Jonathan and Rupert want us to have.

Charles Cowling
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“The words you wrote in (more or less) calm and seclusion suddenly seem to crackle and burn as you say them. And that may be to do with the quality of a particular kind of attention from your audience.” Yes, yes. What oft was thought but ne’er… Thank you, GM, you have described in clear words experiences which I had not got a handle on. Yes, too, to that peculiar quality of attention you sometimes get – those bright but unreadable eyes can induce a most uncomfortable self-consciousness and self-questioning. What you say goes a long, long way to helping… Read more »

gloria mundi
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I love the idea that his crem has a narthex! Seems to me most crem designers wouldn’t know a narthex from a hole in the ground, judging by their works. H’m. I agree that the size of the congregation makes little difference. I suppose the ones where you’re a lightning rod include the ones when you find, unpredictably, that you have to be careful not to let your own sudden emotion swampp your delivery. The words you wrote in (more or less) calm and seclusion suddenly seem to crackle and burn as you say them. And that may be to… Read more »