Quote of the day

Charles 15 Comments

One interesting fact I encounter is what constitutes a ‘religious funeral’. I have on a number of occasions met and prayed with distressed familes who have had humanist funerals because they thought that ‘non-religious’ meant C of E!

Comment in the Guardian here.


  1. Charles

    Much more commonly, the bereaved are asked by the funeral director for their religion. They reply C of E and are then led to believe that they have to have a religious service. I have lost count of the number of families who thought it was compulsory to have two hymns and the Lord’s Prayer.

  2. Charles

    An undertaker of my acquaintance simply says to the family “would you like me to phone the minister?” Thus leaving it to the family to make a request for something different. Confident people, who have already thought about funerals, will of course say no, that’s not what we want; less confident or less culturally resourceful people may well think that’s simply – what one does, what one should do.

    When all the finer points and discussions to be found in the GFG, Guardian etc etc are put to one side, we’ve still a long way to go before we can be sure that people are getting what they want by making reasonably well-informed and considered choices. It’s getting better, isn’t it? But slowly….

  3. Charles

    Somebody certainly should….but what is alternative about getting what you want. There is a lot of emphasis on ‘weird’ stuff like fireworks and diamonds and dare I say it even my beloved Viking Ship, because that makes good TV. What we need is someone to do a documentary on funeral directors with a bit of emotional intelligence and some listening skills. That shouldn’t be ‘alternative’!

  4. Charles

    I agree Jenny, ‘alternative’ isn’t very satisfactory, and diamonds and fireworks weren’t what I meant (that can go in the sequel)! Exhibitions and events surrounding more personalised funerals are great but they don’t really educate people on a broad scale (I assume that the majority who attended these types of events are in the funeral industry; interested in the cultural, religious and social aspects of death; have been affected by the death of someone close, have been faced with the prospect of death themselves). Television or billboard advertising seems to be to be the most effective means of broadcasting ideas to ‘the masses’, and I think this should be taken advantage of in regards to educating people about a more tailor-made approach to funerals. Recording FD’s with emotional intelligence and listening skills would be a very good start!

  5. Charles

    In our own little way that’s what we try to do here at the GFG with our listing of best FDs. We write full reviews so that people can see what they’re like and how nice, normal and like them they are – nothing like the common preconception. Singing the praises of unsung heroes, we call it. The value to funeral shoppers is high and, of course, there is commercial value for FDs. It’s such a good idea that it just has to work. At the moment we can’t make it financially sustainable. We don’t want to make money out of it, we just want it to break even. If only we had better business brains.

    Any suggestions welcome, of course.

  6. Charles

    But to go back to the original quote, I think there is also a lot of genuine confusion about what constitutes ‘religious’ content. I was asked a few weeks ago, in an otherwise non-religious ceremony, to include the Lord’s prayer ‘because it isn’t religious’. This happened an hour into my meeting with the family, and I think it would be a rare fd or arranger who would uncover this degree of subtle interpretation in their initial meeting.

  7. Charles

    It’s a shocking statement, and more shocking that i can just about believe it. Careless Funeral directors, but even more careless BHA ‘ministers’ – you can just imagine them saying ‘No, we don’t do prayer, and no religious readings either, you get what you are given here.’

  8. Charles

    I suggest, Mr TimW, you stop imagining what BHA celebrants do and ask them. I can only think that such a rash generalisation derives from an unhappy experience for you, and if so, that’s regrettable. None of the BHA people I used to know would dream of saying “you get what you are given here,” and many would – do – stretch a point, from their point of view, and include a hymn. But I guess it’s easier to make a polarising and inaccurate generalisation.

    It is a shocking statement, I actually find it difficult to believe – that people don’t understand that “CofE” is religious denomination, and that the bereaved were not better advised by the undertaker and the celebrant? Well, if that’s what happened, it shows that there’s a lot of work to be done by people of good will.

  9. Charles

    Would it be corny of me to say that ‘some of my best friends are Humanists’? Decent people of good will they are too, but the institution – The BHA – I find pretty wierd because they do indeed discourage prayer and any readings which are not in line with BHA doctrine.

  10. Charles

    Not corny, reassuring rather, since it shows you are not one of those implacably opposed to BHA celebrants – or any other kind that isn’t as they wish. You’re quite right of course, the BHA do discourage prayers, and readings which are scriptural, or “about,” in some way, God (or gods, or Krishna, or…) Their celebrants vary enormously, as one would expect. Some are more rigid and doctrinaire about all this, others are – much more flexible. Both sorts get criticised, from different perspectives.

    I don’t think the BHS is weird for taking the position they do. Why shouldn’t they? Religious bodies operate from their positions. I think the way some BHA celebrants operate this position is too rigid – but in fairness, as far as I’m aware, the BHA doesn’t hunt down the softie liberal wing who allow a hymn, though they do argue a lot about it amongst themselves. “The thin end of the wedge” etc…

    It seems to me to come down to this – how much should the celebrant’s own position be a starting or finishing point? In my view, it shouldn’t be central – but then no celebrant should help with a ceremony the belief base of which s/he was unhappy with, because the celebrant would not be convincing or effective.

  11. Charles

    And that’s it exactly…celebrants can and should be flexible but only within the boundaries that they themselves can be comfortable within. Its not as if a specifically religious funeral or a BHA funeral are the only options available. I don’t think its reasonable to expect a church to conduct a non-religious funeral or to expect a specifically Humanist celebrant to conduct a religious one. The important thing, surely, is that people are aware that religious and Humanist funerals are not the only two options available to them.

  12. Charles

    entirely agree – “that people are aware…” and particularly, that FDs are aware that there are more than just two supposedly polar opposites.

    The question for FDs is not “was he religious,” nor “are you religious,” it is:

    “What sort of funeral ceremony do you want?”

    It’s for the nearest and dearest to decide how to inexpert any wishes as expressed formerly, by the dead person, and to decide what would suit them.

    It’s all and only about the right funeral ceremony for these people.

    (I hardly need bang on like this to you Jenny, I’m sure, but it would be nice to think some FDs might read the GFG and think “H’mmm – what do I usually say to them?”)

  13. Charles

    TimW and Gloria, I assure you this really was said to me, and I was a little taken aback when the comment was made. But I’m not really shocked – it’s not the first time that this sort of desperate misunderstanding has come to light during discussions for a funeral, although it’s not usually in the form of such a bald statement!

    I think sometimes we assume a certain degree of cultural/emotional/spiritual/literary and musical understanding in our clients before we meet them. And mostly that is fine, because they have that understanding and all is well. But, once we have visited several hundred families, it becomes pretty apparent that there are quite a number people who have limited understanding in any one of the above areas, and sometimes a challenging mix of all five. Sometimes we work with people who are barely literate. This is not a criticism – some of the most interesting ceremonies are created under those circumstances, and the journey towards an authentic funeral the most satisfying, both for a family and a celebrant.

    So, it’s not really that shocking. Family meetings which include an older generation, perhaps given a broad religious background through Sunday school and then only exposed to religious services at subsequent christenings, marriages and funerals, and a younger generation which only learnt about religion through a broad curriculum of world religious practise, not personal experience – is likely to lead to these odd perceptions of the Lord’s prayer and Psalsm 23 as a cultural inheritance rather than a religious one.

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