Is ceremony dying?

Charles Cowling

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

 

This seems a strange question just after economically-challenged Britain has hosted the Olympics, a no-expenses-spared ceremonial games that unites nations in celebration of sporting prowess.

But as the cult of individuality nibbles away at established social conventions, more and more people seem to be caring less for ceremony on a more intimate level. It didn’t seem particularly surprising when a woman of my acquaintance announced on facebook she’d just had a quickie marriage in a register office, adding friends would be invited to a bash some months after the honeymoon. I’ve also attended a memorial drinks party several weeks after a no-frills committal to which only family were invited to the crematorium. As we tucked into canapes, the only significance of the occasion was that we all knew the reason for being there, and our conversation reflected this fact.

Even those who opt for ceremony can sometimes offer reasons other than a deep emotional or spiritual need to mark a profound rite of passage. Some admit to getting little satisfaction out of the ceremony itself, saying it’s just the bourgeois thing to do—and a means to the end of gathering people together for that social jolly afterwards.

It goes without saying there are many ceremony options available, though more for marriages than funerals. If a register office is deemed too sterile to get married in and you don’t want a church ceremony, you can choose any number of venues from a beach on a paradise buy cialis online melbourne island to an aristocratic stately pile. If a crematorium is deemed too soulless for your funeral plans, the alternatives are more limited.

Some non-religious folk opt for a church funeral followed by a brief committal at the crematorium, seeing this as the best way to do justice to the dead through words and music before the final farewell. However, while some liberal churches allow risqué eulogies and secular music, traditional churches remind us we’re in a house of God. When in Rome…

Some again opt for graveside ceremonies in woodland cemeteries, seeing this as solving the time problem of the crematorium, but with natural surroundings which might appeal more than incense-scented churches, with their icons making visible religious purpose.

Meanwhile, others are opting to get the cremation over with swiftly so they can plan a ceremony with the ashes rather than the body. This can, of course, be anything from the aforesaid memorial party, with urn of cremains in attendance, to something more ritualistic such as the scattering of ashes in a favoured, natural beauty spot.

Time and money are important considerations in life, and both can be found more readily with pre-planning. But there’s more to meaningful ceremony than advance scheduling and financial planning. Whether it’s a hit-the-spot celebration-of-life speech or a requiem mass, providers must provide, and receivers must be open to their cathartic potential. It’s a two-way process. Or is apathy as relevant a consumer choice as any other?

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Richard
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Richard

Sweetpea, my reference to quick and simple rites of passage was not intended to be derogatory.

Ru, I like the odd father term!

Kristine, good to read your comments and, GM, good to see you again! Yes, if there’s apathy, the way to combat it is work, mainly of the brain variety.

gloria mundi
Guest

Blundering in a bit late here – just to say thanks for a really valuable post and comments. I think it’s often true that people have tended to leave ceremony behind when they left an organised church, just as they left behind – to their loss, perhaps – the idea of a spiritual path. I find it can be helpful to say something, hopefully not too ponderous, about the function of the funeral somewhere near the start, and to relate it to the gathering/congregation. Also – this may sound flippant, but I think it’s not – to use the word… Read more »

Kristine Bentz
Guest

Thank you for the warm welcome, Charles. I often desire to be working in the UK rather than the US. If I may occasionally join your conversations from the Sonoran desert here in Arizona, how lucky am I?!

And cheers to the reinvention of funerals as you say; to steering away from the tired and rote!

Poppy Mardall
Guest

Love the idea of odd parents. Love the sound of this ceremony. You are both amazing and inspirational.

Ru Callender
Guest

Claire and I are performing a naming ceremony for a friends baby boy this weekend, as well as installing ‘odd parents’ as they are known in our family. Between us all, we tweaked the idea of a Christian anointing, blended it with the mark that goes on a Hindu’s forehead called a Tilak to come up with a newish ritual. For Hindu’s, the mark is made from ash and clay from the Ganges and Turmeric. For Christians, a mark which echoes this is made from burnt palm leaves. We have got clay from Dartmoor, and powdered Torbay sandstone, the town… Read more »

sweetpea
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sweetpea

Claire and Ru. What a beautiful idea. Is there any chance of a film of one of your ceremonies being made?

A Celeb
Guest
A Celeb

Love it Ru! I do the occasional naming ceremony for family and friends and always struggle with what to call the not-godparents. And the anointing idea is wonderful. Will give my next ceremony a make-over!

Kristine Bentz
Guest

Thank you for this conversation. I love it! Richard’s thought “there’s more to meaningful ceremony than advance scheduling and financial planning” leads us to a root cause of apathy. Meaningful ceremony takes work. It demands creativity, resourcefulness and time. Finding meaning outside of a faith-based organization may be challenging for people. I see people wandering without a ‘map’ — trying to reach, yet not finding, meaningful ceremony experience. If wanderers don’t connect with someone to guide them into creating and enacting a custom ceremony of any scale (e.g. trained Celebrants), they may likely choose nothing at all. I wholeheartedly agree… Read more »

Poppy Mardall
Guest

Totally agree that simplicity can be very beautiful and moving. It surely all depends on what ceremony means to each of us. For some it is trumpets and horses, for others it is quiet contemplation. This morning I went with a lovely man to cremate his mum. There was no formal ‘ceremony’ and only us. But he was in charge of pressing the button to wheel the coffin through the ‘curtains’, and it was very lovely because it was right for him. And on the point of ceremony spaces, in my experience it’s a NIGHTMARE to find somewhere personal to… Read more »

sweetpea
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sweetpea

Yes, Poppy, Charles is correct about the statutory requirements of a civil marriage, where a registrar will be very careful about allowing anything which may compromise the legality of the proceedings. To take the positive angle on this, you really want someone who will follow the law closely so that you don’t end up with any legal problems later on – irregularities aren’t a happy problem to be left with. But a civil marriage does limit your personal expression, including choice of venue, time of day, spiritual or religious aspects etc, because the law is specific in its requirements. (Allowances… Read more »

sweetpea
Guest
sweetpea

Well, this argument rather assumes that ‘quickie’ marriages in register offices and ‘no frills’ committals don’t carry much emotional weight. Both descriptive words here seem rather derogatory, which is a shame, because people often have good reasons for wanting a simple approach to their important life events. Having been involved in both for a number of years, I’d say people are then very often surprised by the profound emotions which are invoked during even very simple ceremonies. Sometimes it is not at all what they are expecting.