Posted by Belinda Forbes
From the moment I had booked myself onto a course to become a secular funeral celebrant, it started happening. Like when you get married, get pregnant or get a puppy. Suddenly everywhere you turn, it’s about weddings, what the expectant mum shouldn’t eat or drink, and how you should never play tug of war with a puppy. Oops! Too late.
So, three years ago, having resigned from my job as a teacher, I was looking forward to my course on writing and conducting non-religious funerals when I read an article in the Sunday Times. To sum it up, the non-religious journalist Minette Marrin extols the virtues of tradition and religion for funeral ceremonies.
I was so annoyed, I wrote to her:
Your article, “I’m not religious, but there’s something about funerals” makes the point that non-religious funerals do not quite hit the mark and are not a proper end. Most funerals I have attended were Christian ceremonies, and in almost every case the deceased was not a practising Christian. The passages from the Bible have been anything but comforting for the majority of non-religious people in the congregation. At my grandfather’s funeral, a dreadful passage from Revelations was read out. At my grandmother’s funeral, the vicar referred to her as ‘Kay’ throughout – her name was Kathleen! …We cannot all have a handsome Victorian Gothic church and Harold Pinter reading a poem. But we can choose a fitting farewell whether religious or not.
…Each to her own, I guess, as far as funerals go. I think it’s very hard at the last moment, in the middle of grief, to make decisions, and if no one has taken them before, then convention is good to fall back on. I think the words of the prayer book are very beautiful, and give me a sense of connection with the past and other funerals, but I entirely take your point.
With best wishes
Although I was impressed that she had taken the trouble to reply, I was still annoyed. However, three years later, I look back at my pre-celebrant self and smile. I am annoyed no longer. If an atheist wants a traditional Anglican service in his village church, why not? If a Roman Catholic wants to be cremated and asks me, an atheist celebrant, to conduct the service, why not?
And thank you Minette for replying! In many years to come, may you have the send-off you have asked for.