Where only the best will do

Charles 10 Comments


A recent comment in the Guardian reminds us of the setbacks to the cause of better funerals that can be wrought by indifferent celebrants. Well, that’s my interpretation of this:

I was unfortunate enough to attend a “humanist funeral” a couple of years ago. It struck me as utterly fatuous and silly, without the appropriate respect for life or any real solace to those who were grieving, and in no way provided any alternative to the religious rituals which enable many people to make sense of their lives. Possibly this is because atheist philosophies are relatively new, and need to develop, but I have my doubts.



  1. Charles

    well Charles, I can add this:

    five months ago, I attended the most wonderful Humanist service at St Marylebone Crem, it was truly wonderful (if one could ever say that about such an event), the Sottish male who ‘took the service’ had a terrific touch and all involved were as pleased as was feasibly possible



  2. Charles

    While I know about the setbacks to the cause that can be wrought by indifferent celebrants, this comment could just as well (as it stands) say more about the commentor than it says about the celebrant.

    Well, that’s my interpretaiton, Charles, since comments about funerals I’ve conducted range from ‘the best funeral I’ve ever been to, better than I could have thought possible’ to ‘well, that was a bit of nothing, wasn’t it!’

  3. Charles

    Well “I have my doubts” too, because few of the ceremonies I’ve helped with have been purely atheist, and actually atheism has a much older pedigree than is sometimes realised. So it was with to do with a poor piece of work from a celebrant, or it’s as Jonathan says.

  4. Charles

    It doesn’t really matter whether the celebrant is religious, humanist or civil. There are some who just shouldn’t be doing the job.

    One of my responsibilities as funeral director is to try and guide families away from those who don’t do a good job and towards those that do – whatever their beliefs (or mine).

  5. Charles

    Good for you, Bryan – the use of belief/unbelief as a defining concept for funerals and celebrants doesn’t really work. We all know that funerals are rarely “atheist” and Christian funerals have attenders with a huge range of beliefs/not beliefs. And the beliefs of the celebrant are, I’ve come to feel, entirely irrelevant. Also, good for you for guiding families. Many FDs simply seem to phone whoever is on their list as flavour of the month/cheapest or some other irrelevant category.

      1. Charles


        You open a whole new can of worms with your comment about the crem slot!!

        I was always taught that part of being a funeral director is tying up the celebrant, crem slot & ourselves (I know of many an FD that has come unstuck telling a family or celebrant that that is the only time left.) to a mutually convenient slot.

        Not always easy and not how many families see things.

  6. Charles

    I’m beginning to wonder whether what makes a genuinely good funeral ceremony has anything to do with anyone’s beliefs.

    Others may experience it as good or not depending on how attached they are to hearing their own beliefs expressed; if there has to be, for them, an ‘alternative to religious rituals’ then that limits their chances, as does an inability to tolerate religion.

    I think you’ve got it, Bryan, when you seem to imply that a good or bad funeral ceremony depends on who the celebrant is, how attuned he or she is to others’ needs; but even that doesn’t guarantee a good experience for everyone.

    Also, it’s reasonable to criticize funeral directors for any lack of care in selecting the appropriate celebrant, but ideally it should be one of the celebrant’s responsibilities to guide a family towards the funeral director best suited to the nature of the all-important ceremony they discover (with the celebrant’s help) they are looking for. Some FDs are more comfortable with imaginative deviations from their ‘norm’ than others, for instance; some families need the strict professional boundaries better provided by certain undertakers.

    But how’s the family supposed to know the difference if they wait till the body’s already lying there dead before giving it a thought, and get pushed into stumbling over any old random funeral director before anyone else becomes involved? Good celebrants and good funeral directors need to spend time together, finding out about each other’s knowledge and skills and passions, so as to work more closely and effectively together; and celebrants, as the voice of the funeral on the day, need to work on their image as being fundamentally important to its success.

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