Is competition among celebrants killing off the fittest?

Charles Cowling

Boring

 

The funeral was in full swing and the celebrant was midway through that thing about life being a river that gets wider and wider when his phone went off in his trousers pocket. He furtively squeezed it into silence as he stumbled on. It may have been something by Kahlil Gibran. The phone shrilled out once more. Again, he stilled it. When it went off for the third time he pulled it from his pocket and addressed the caller. “I can’t speak to you now, I’m in a funeral.”

Reader, it really happened.

Yes, there’s a full spectrum of secular celebrants out there. Some are  the best it gets, some are sub-prime — and an awful lot are blameless. 

What’s more, there’s a heck of a lot of them.  They’re all competing for work and it’s getting a bit beastly what with all the wheedling and undercutting and general unseemly jostling. 

There used to be just four tribes of celebrants, the Humanists, the Civils, the green fusers and the Association of Independent Celebrants. Now there’s also the Fellowship of Independent Celebrants, the County Celebrants Network, the Scottish Independent Celebrant Association and the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants. I’ve probably missed one. They’re all training new recruits of whom, in this bad economy, there is no shortage. 

There’s market saturation in some areas. 

Does it matter? I used to think that Darwinian forces would kill off the less good while the excellent would drive up demand for secular funerals by the example of their work. There are still a lot more religious funerals than the churchgoing figures would seem to explain, so there is theoretically a rich seam to be worked. 

It doesn’t necessarily seem to be happening, the Darwinian thing. There may well be people who have been so underwhelmed by indifferent secular funerals they’ve been to that they’re turning back to the Church as the lesser of two evils. And let’s not be disparaging about ministers. There may be some below par ones out there, but there are also masses of excellent ones. 

Some funeral directors will only let the very best celebrants anywhere near their families. Others will take the first one who’s free on Thursday at 2.30. 

Perhaps the message to the very best is that you don’t need to be that good, spend all that time, invest all that emotional energy. Perhaps there is very little perceived difference between good enough and good as it gets. We note that no funeral director yet has sought to take the very best celebrant in his/her area out of the market by offering them a salary based on, say, three funerals a week. Perhaps a really good celebrant doesn’t make them look that good. 

No one wants to feel like a scavenger fighting for scraps. So the very best celebrants, they’re just going to walk away, aren’t they? And that’s either a shame — or it doesn’t really matter all that much. 

Do tell me I’m wrong. 

 

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A Celeb
Guest
A Celeb

If such a thing is possible, this post is even more relevant at the start of 2015. There are celebrants-a-plenty round here. A few are cramming in so many that they’re doing the large weekly numbers done by (some of) the retired C of E vicars.

Charles
Guest
Charles

I suppose Groundhog Day Syndrome must be a threat to the mental health of such as these. I hope they all go mad.

Charles W Shaw
Guest

I found the point about the phone interesting – it can happen that phones go off even when switched off – the professional answer is to politely walk to the side of the room and put it outside or hand to someone else to dispose of.
They can take the battery out. but better still don’t take it in the ceremony room.

Then you can carry on undisturbed..

Charles
Guest
Charles

Thank you for calling by, Charles. Another alternative is to leave the dratted thing in the ‘vestry’!

Chris the trainee
Guest
Chris the trainee

Thanks for that. I like to take all advice I can, try it and see if it works

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

Chris – set your sights unrealistically high, but temper that with forgiving yourself if you don’t quite make them, that way you SHOULD do the very best you can.
If I can offer one tip on delivery of a service, I tend to approach it as I would reading a story to someone, the pace of delivery changes according to content as does tone of voice etc. Perhaps not for everyone but it works for me and it’s when I feel most comfortable.

Chris the Trainee
Guest
Chris the Trainee

Thank you everyone for your kind comments. Are funerals like busses ? As it happens, the next day I get asked to do two funerals on the same day at the same crematorium from two separate sources ! Lol Owen I am now quaking in my boots. I take your point about the minister. I too have given presentations and training inputs, but this is very different. The point I was trying to make was that he didn’t seem to have prepared very well. If there is one thing I have learnt it is that the 5P’s apply and preparation… Read more »

Sue Goodrum
Guest

In all walks of life, there is competition and new businesses have to be prepared to stay in for the long haul. Old businesses can never feel complacent, they need to stay fresh and alert to new trends as well. I agree in some areas there may be seemingly a surplus of celebrants, but this can be positive too as more people are hearing about us through friends, family, neighbours etc. Word spreads. Self belief is very important and I think having a passion for this work really helps. For me it has to be a part time living as… Read more »

Andrew Hickson
Guest

Ahhhh this is the sort of post this blog should thrive on. Good, reasoned, intelligent, well thought-out debate, many sides of the argument, no nastiness, no exclusivity, new and not-so-new commentators contributing. Even if we have got somewhat away from the original question, it’s good to type! I really do take my hat off to any celebrant who makes this line of business work for him or her. One a week may be adequate, more than they can cope with, or just no good at all. Expectations vary, requirements differ. I sometimes get pangs of guilt that the talk I… Read more »

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

Well Andrew I’m afraid you just have to be annoyed with my statement. It was based not through vanity, because god knows I have MUCH to learn and I am far from vain, but personal experience. One of the two I compared myself to could not write the service for my father’s funeral, What she provided to my sister was an absolute mess full of inaccuracies and poorly structured. I had to write the eulogy for her, which she then missed the final third off, but replaced it with banal readings of which we were not given a choice. My… Read more »

Andrew Hickson
Guest

You get to turn your phone off at 11pm? Wow. Wish I could 😉

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

Yes, but I’m not an FD, although that has crossed my mind for the future 😉
I would just like to add Andrew that from your perspective as a FD you dislike celebrants saying they are better than others. Well to be fair that is something I have never done nor would never do when meeting an FD. if someone else is mentioned I default to this setting: ” I’m sure that xxx does a good service, but this is what I bring to the table” and then let them make their own minds up.

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

@Gloria – I’m cognisant of the likelihood I have to find a part time job to supplement my celebrant earnings, which is frustrating but a reality. The “march of the celebrants” is getting ridiculous, and still the companies churn them out because fundamentally it’s THEIR livelihood. When it comes to an FD choosing a celebrant, yes it sometimes down to price, and sometimes if the FD is unaware of what makes a good service then they take quality out of the equation of choice. Coming from a small town that is inundated with celebrants, ministers et al, it is the… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

The best, if they don’t have another income stream, may well be vulnerable, and that’s a real worry. But one of the very useful things made clear to me early in my not always very special training was that this is not a dependable way to earn a living, although it may supplement a living, Sorry to be blunt, but in my view celebrants shouldn’t expect to earn a living, and I think it can distort what we’re doing to expect it to do so. But I do agree with Lol that FDs need to “like” you, or at least… Read more »

Janicemg
Guest

Any celebrant who is in this for the money will pretty soon give up. If you factor in the costs and the time it takes to do the job WELL they couldn’t afford us.

I think many people look at the 30 minutes in the crem and that is easy money…. how little they know.

The mark of a good celebrant is the return business; you know you have done a good job when families go back and ask for you by name.

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

As a celebrant fairly new to the game (6 months) I have to pour a little cold water on some of the bold statements made about the best surviving. My experience thus far has been: no matter how good you are, how cheap you are, unless an FD likes you then you will not work unless a family asks for you, and they tend to do this based upon reputation, which you only get by working! Part of the equation for survival includes economics. If you don’t work you don’t earn, so no matter how good you are if the… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

I agree David. Unforgivable.

David Holmes
Guest

Good luck Chris – you sound like you have it figured out and that is half the battle. Whatever happens in the actual service is the major part of what makes a good funeral, and good funerals are good for the client family and FD’s business.

If I might add, yes please, take your phone and leave it in the Minister’s room. You never know when soemthing will go wrong that needs communication!

Leaving your phone on is an honest mistake. Answering the bloody thing during a service is crass and unforgiveable.

gloria mundi
Guest

If we’re getting new recruits like Chris, it’s all heading in the right direction! He’s taken the time and trouble to make an impact on a few chosen FDs. That’ll work, even if the start-up seems frustratingly slow, Chris. All the best.

Chris the trainee
Guest
Chris the trainee

Good point. Thanks

Chris the Trainee
Guest
Chris the Trainee

Wow ! This is a really interesting subject for me as I have just recently passed my Civil Ceremonies course (excellent course by the way, thank you Ann) and had a long hard think as to where I want to go and how I want to do it. I have now approached 3 funeral directors: one reasonable sized firm and two small independents. At the reasonable sized firm I sat and talked to the funeral arranger at the desk who told me how much she liked me and promised me work. Which was nice At the two independents I spent… Read more »

A Celeb
Guest
A Celeb

Chris – take your phone in case of emergency. But then lock it in your glove compartment.
Best wishes for your first funeral!

Andrew Hickson
Guest

No apology needed for being contrary Charles. As I’ve said before, if we all had the same opinion, the world would be a very boring place. Low client-expectation stems from funerals being things clients have to go through though really wishing they didn’t have to, having had no emotional value in the past, and not realising that they can do something different. That, sadly, starts with the funeral director, who is the first point of contact for the majority of people who have experienced a death in the family. Of vital importance in your argument is your misconception that Thursday… Read more »

james showers
Guest

I also have noticed a quantum leap in the number of approaches I have had from prospective celebrants. I see (and encourage) many of them; unsurprisingly, few stand out as having the extraordinary mix of authenticity and theatricality and warmth and efficiency and confidence and … on and on with all the qualities that it takes to deliver a really great full hearted service. I’d have liked to know how the wretched celebrant above dealt with the phone interruption with the appalled folks who had witnessed it; it might just have been possible to rescue the situation with a spontaneous… Read more »

Marc
Guest

In my experience we are only as good as our last Funeral and most FD’s realise that a bad ceremony will reflect badly on them. That should help them sort out the wheat from the chaff. Finally it is well nigh impossible to put together a dignified and meaningful ceremony if the Celebrant isn’t that bothered one way or the other IMHO.

gloria mundi
Guest

Marc, you’re O isn’t H, it’s spot on. (Well, it may be H, but it doesn’t need to be!)

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Absolutely agree, Marc. We are very aware of how the celebrants we use reflect on us and are of the ‘only let the best anywhere near our clients’ school. When we do use a new celebrant, as we occasionally must, it is usually on the recomendation of one that we trust. We also spend that funeral rather on edge in case there’s a problem. We also try not just to have excellent celebrants but also to match them to clients that suit and, indeed, vice versa. Of course the time that all breaks down in when we are using local… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

Fascinating post. I don’t know – who does? – whether I’m the best, the middle or the crap, though my nerves have never yet let me go in with the mobile on. (Check mobile, check glasses, check script under arm, check mobile, check glasses, ..) But for me, Andrew is right. I’m not walking away from being a celebrant until I’m ready to (‘course, I may get carried out…) and that’s whether I get asked to do one a week or one a month. It is deeply satisfying as well as all the other stuff (driving round in the snow,… Read more »

Andrew Hickson
Guest

Ooops, pressed send by mistake.

I’m not sure it’s right to assume that the best (whatever that means) will walk away. The best stand out, they make a difference. They also gain a huge amount of personal satisfaction. That has to go a long way to ensuring they keep at it doesn’t it?

Andrew Hickson
Guest

“The very best” of anything is, of course, subjective. That alone makes it difficult or impossible to make it quantifiable. Of course, anyone would hope that the phone situation wouldn’t happen, that goes almost without saying. Or does it? If it happened, someone must have thought it was acceptable. I think there is a funeral director in a south coast town not far from Bournemouth who does employ a celebrant isn’t there? Don’t want to mention names in case I’m wrong. The sad thing, IMHO, is that funeral directors per se have not yet realised that a good celebrant makes… Read more »

Kathryn Edwards
Guest
Kathryn Edwards

I agree with you, Andrew, that it must benefit a funeral director’s reputation to work with excellent celebrants (of whatever stripe).

Kathryn Edwards
Guest
Kathryn Edwards

There are indeed funeral directors with what one might call heightened ritual awareness, who work very closely with celebrants — by having them on staff — or act as celebrants themselves. The ones I know at first hand are James Showers of Family Tree in Stroud; Arka Original Funerals in Brighton/Lewes; Ru and Claire Callender at The Green Funeral Company in Totnes. There are doubtless others. In a better world, the whole funeral conversation would be led by someone with ritual awareness, so that the focus would be on the co-creation of the right psychic environment, and to which the… Read more »

Janicemg
Guest

If you mean who I think you mean, they don’t employ a ‘celebrant’ as such they employ a person who ‘turns his collar to all things’. Keep him busy though – i have heard 10+ funerals a week

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

no need Andrew

you’re in the right location and here:-

http://www.tapperfuneralservice.co.uk/additional-services/celebrant/

an excellent firm by all accounts

andrew

Marc
Guest

I totally agree with you Charles. We should be working together not competing with each other for work. In some places it is reminiscent of the Ice cream wars of old.