What about those Interfaithers?

Charles 13 Comments

Another controversial post by Richard Rawlinson

When religion is broached here in relation to secular funerals, I observe a few commentators opining the fact religion in this context tends to be referring to Judeo-Christian monotheism rather than wider discussion of faiths from New Age sects to Buddhism and Hinduism. I’d also welcome informed bloggers across the spectrum, but today I’d like to revisit the Interfaith niche in the hope of soliciting your opinions about it.

For example, the OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation seems to be forging a niche for itself that sits firmly on the fence between civil and religious, claiming to design funeral ceremonies where everyone attending, regardless of faith or views, will feel included.

Acknowledging that a funeral today often includes people attending from different faiths or none, the foundation supplies male and female ministers who have followed a two-year training programme with the Interfaith Seminary. It claims this training allows for the recognition of ‘the inner spiritual truths of the individual [which are also] at the heart of the world’s great faith traditions’. It adds: ‘There are countless paths leading to the One God / Truth / Great Spirit / Source-of-All’.

This is clearly not just another Protestant sect as it’s aiming to be as inclusive of agnostics and non-Christians as it is those uncomfortable with the organised Church. In fact, the reference to One God / Truth / Great Spirit / Source-of-All above is the only one I could find on its website. What a considerate use of forward slashes, which could be joined by AA’s Higher Power and Wicca’s Mother Nature.

Of its ministry, it says: ‘We aim to be of service to people of all faiths or none’, citing as an example ‘those who are seeking spiritual connection and expression, yet feel uncomfortable with conventional religion’.

It continues: ‘We are not creating a new religion, but filling a growing spiritual gap in modern society. It’s not our aim to convert anyone away from their faith, but to support people who wish to enquire more deeply into their own spiritual tradition and their own soul’.

Whether agnostic or religious, might this approach be comforting to some in the context of funerals? Or does it leave a sickly taste?


  1. Charles

    I’d like to add a few questions here which might contextualise this interfaithers subject. I’m basically trying to gleen if such a niche actually appeals to the civil funeral market. To do this, I need to ask more questions like… do civil funeral celebrants often get approached by people who reveal their background was once Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or Jewish or Wiccan? Or do they tend to present themselves simply as secularists or atheists, regardless of whether they’ve lapsed from something or have never really followed the faith of their forebears?

    I imagine a few reveal they hail from a Christian background which they’ve rejected for one reason or another. But do other faiths, perhaps due to their racial heritage as opposed to any religious affiliation, tend to stick with funeral celebrants from their own ‘community’?

    This leads to the sensitive subject of voluntary segregation. Are there many black or Asian or Middle Eastern British civil funeral celebrants who might appeal to those secular immigrants or nationalised Brits who value some form of individual cultural identity? This question is not as outlandish as it might appear. I appreciate it’s normal for black or white priests, doctors, teachers, TV presenters and so forth to carry out their work in multicultural society, but some professions do remain unrepresented by the full mix of cultures.

    I ask these questions with the fierce loyalties of Christian denominations in mind, a situation from which equalising secularism can be a liberator. For example, Orangeman Tom Elliott has been under fire by his own side for attending the funeral of murdered, Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr. ‘No Protestant should ever attend Roman Catholic worship,’ said an Orange Order spokesman. ‘Rules are rules and they must be upheld’. Another Orangeman spoke out in Elliott’s defence, saying ‘compromise is not involved… as long as he does not participate in the partaking of the Eucharist. That is the crucial point that is being missed.’

    Secular funerals happily don’t tend to pose such dilemmas for attendees of faith. But do even lapsed Buddhists, Hindus and so forth tend to request secular funeral for themselves? And would they consider an interfaith ceremony?

  2. Charles

    As a doubtful agnostic myself I observe the need to ‘hedge bets’ when it comes to clients wanting non religious funerals. I do feel it would be impossible to please everyone at a funeral unless at least one prayer was offered for those who need it.
    Properly introduced with a caveat, where’s the harm in it?

  3. Charles

    I think there is an issue here. As a civil celebrant I try to reflect the beliefs I find. It is a neutral position based on respect for differences.

    Interfaith sounds neutral but in fact makes the claim – popular with new agers – that all paths lead to the same god. As Richard points out, there are not a few believers who would object to this.

    I like the phrase ‘equalising secularism’. I think it can provide safe ground for faiths to gather in without compromise – but, after reading about them, I am not convinced that this is what Interfaith is offering.

  4. Charles

    I had a long chat with these people at the Funeral Map conferrence…largely because I shared many of Vale’s concerns; particularly that of the underlying assumption that ‘all paths lead to God’. Now personally, I tend to share this view but I am well aware that this is not universally the case and that many religious practitioners (of all flavours) would reject it.

    I came away more impressed than I expected to be, and the case they gave me as an example made perfect sense. they had dealt with the funeral of a gentleman who had lived in India under the Raj and who, whilst he was English and Christian, was also culturally very much ‘at home’ with Indian culture. This did indeed seem like a perfect case for the ‘Interfaith Celebrant’.

    As someone with a fairly eclectic knowledge of religion, however, I remain doubtful. I would think you actually need a fairly deep and extensive knowledge of religions before you can attempt the ‘mix and match’ approach that this seems to be offering. I may well be doing them a dis-service however. I think you would actually need to attend the services to see how well the approch works.

  5. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    My hunch about interfaithers is to agree with Vale and Jenny. By trying to please all they might please noone, but if they’re busy I’d be proved wrong. I’d like an interfaith priestess (they seem to be women mainly) to try to enlighten us. I also sniff more new ageism in their tone than anything else which doesn’t rock my world personally. Horses for courses and all that, though.

  6. Charles

    I find myself out of my depth here. I think I’ve now got my head around equalising secularism. In fact, I even think I may have got my head around the whole argument.

    I’ll see if I can conjure up an Inter-Faither for you, Richard.

  7. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    Good luck with your search for an interfaith spokeswoman, Charles. It’s all academic for me. I’m a loud and proud Catholic, by the way!

  8. Charles

    Richard writes, ‘I imagine a few reveal they hail from a Christian background which they’ve rejected…’ You may be interested to know that I have done many funerals for people who have not rejected their faith. I recently visited a very religious elderly lady who told me she wanted a ‘modern funeral’. She’d seen me do a funeral and decided that was the kind of send-off she wanted. I have also done funerals for practising Roman Catholics,Buddhists,Hindus and one Sikh. In some of those a member of their faith read a prayer or read from a holy text or there had been (or was going to be) a religious service at a different venue. My role was to plan and co-ordinate the mainly secular funeral, be the MC and ensure that the eulogy and other personal aspects were covered. An inter-faith minister would have added an unwelcome dimension. However, some (not all) may have preferred a celebrant from their culture had one been available. Someone could do a PhD on this subject!

  9. Charles

    How far can you go putting religions together, as it were, to find one unifying path, before they move under your hands and turn into something more like philosophy? Or into something else than Interfaith – a New Faith? (New Age, whatever..)

    Unless God is a metaphorical concept rather than a metaphysical reality (which one would have thought was rather His point for 99% of believers in religion) the differences between religious beliefs are real enough to make Interfaith something other than its label.

    I mean, as B says, it’s a PhD subject and I’ve a PhD in nothing but Hindsight, but still : there is a difference, surely, between a Way that is, in the loose contemporary sense in which we use the word, “spiritual,” and a Way that is syncretic of all major religious beliefs. The latter seems to me to run the risk of being not so much Interfaith as Faithlite (no offence intended to sincere Interfaithers here.)

    All this is at the level of belief. At the level of religion as “what people do around here” sure, I can see that a funeral with a spiritual theme that offends no-one of any faith can be effective and helpful, but maybe that’s more like Interritual than true Interfaith?

    And RR is Catholic? Well I never, who’d have thought…!

    But my feeling is that working together on effective and helpful funeral ritual may be more fruitful between people of different and clearly-defined faiths/no faith, than with a syncretic effort to make One True Faith out of all the faiths who see themselves as , er…The One True Faith.

    Still, as so often, I write from a position of relative ignorance, since I’ve never met an Interfaither – though I have met interesting, humane people who are CofE RC Muslim atheist New Age pagans etcetcetc….

    The Rev Casaubon, in “Middlemarch,” spent dry and fruitless years looking for The Key To All Mythologies. Didn’t do his poor wife much good either.

  10. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    From interfaith Rev Angie Alexandra

    Several people I’ve spoken to have praised Humanist ceremonies for being so personal, but expressed they felt a bit empty without a prayer.

    I’m happy to be as formal or informal as requested, to wear stole and robes or not, to introduce myself as a Minister or not.

    I will hold ceremonies wherever, however . . . a coffin painted with the deceased’s favourite football team colours, or a recording of favourite heavy metal music as mourners enter?
    Crematoria, woodland burial sites, churches and chapels if granted permission from sympathetic church Ministers.

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