David Abel answers his critics

Charles 5 Comments


If funeral celebrants suffer from anxiety, that is not surprising.

In addition to job anxiety, because they exist at the beck and call of undertakers, and financial anxiety because they must resign themselves to the vagaries of the mortality rate, there comes with the job, also, a degree of social anxiety — just try telling people what you do.

And then there is status anxiety. Until the British Humanist Association began training civvies to minister to the unchurched, all funeral obsequies in Britain had been presided over since the dawn of time by people, whether shaman or sorcerer, soothsayer or priest, who were imbued, in popular perception, with a special, sacred, qualification. Funeral celebrants need to have an answer to the question: “By what authority vested in you do you do this work?”

The full answer to this question is long and complex but can probably be condensed as ‘I (think I) am the Right Sort of Person’. What, precisely, is a Right Sort of Person? There was a discussion about this recently here

Which brings us to the question of money, wherein lies all manner of vexation. Celebrants need to put food on the table if they are to be able to act out  their vocation. In Africa, as Kathryn Edwards is wont to observe, it is the custom of villagers to leave a chicken at the door of the shaman. In our altogether more advanced society, celebrants must submit an invoice or specify the amount to be placed in the brown envelope customarily slipped into the back of the hand by the conductor as he simultaneously whispers from the side of his mouth, “Which one’s the widow?”

The vexed question of money has been at the heart of the distaste felt by many Right Sort of People towards what they feel to be an insurgency by the Wrong Sort of People, who are reckoned to be simply not up to it and, with an output level of up to ten funerals a week, only in it for the money. A complicating factor here is that the disapprobation of the RSPs looks a bit like, sounds a bit like, snobbery and is probably experienced as snobbery. Feelings are therefore running pretty high. 

The contumely of RSPs has been focussed on the unfortunate and possibly undeserving person of David Abel as the most visible personification of this insurgency of the simply-won’t-do’s. This was because he posted a video on his website which described the amount of money to be made from funerals, to the exclusion of any discussion of a wider ministry to the bereaved. There was quite a lot of howling about it. 

Not that RSPs are in it for the no-money. Most have a tender regard for their market value, especially relative to what bereaved people spend on accessories like flowers, and what undertakers bank in profit. Most think they’re worth more than they get. But they are, also, possessed of ideals. They see their work as ministry. 

David Abel has now posted a video on the Fellowship of Independent Celebrants’ website in which he acknowledges and addresses the criticism he has received. He talks of the importance of vocation, advising those who think they’d be able to do something else equally well to do that instead. 

He also tells potential candidates of his training course that celebrancy “is not a get-rich-quick scheme”. At the same time, he advises them to make a careful assessment of what they need to earn if they are to be able to follow their vocation: “I have to acknowledge … that this is a business.” He also addresses the matter of the number of funerals a celebrant might expect to take per week, and do them well. He reckons 8-10 probably too many, 3-4, plus a weekend wedding, more appropriate. 

I am sure you will agree that he deserves a hearing. See his new video here. (I can’t embed it) 


  1. Charles

    Credit to the man for being at least partially honest. True, some celebrants average 3-4 a week, I know of one that has done 1 in 4 months. What annoys many of us is that we have paid our money, been told that “we are all one big family and support one another”, and then find they are happy to foist another “family member” upon us in our own back yard for a variety of reasons, but never the honest one of “£xxxx amount of money for 3 days training is money for old rope and we can do loads of these a year”.

  2. Charles

    I did try to listen to you David, honest, only your bedside manner makes me want to take up my bed and run.

    Yes, Lol, the truth is that celebrancy training is a lot more £ucrative than celebrancy – can you think of a training organization you’d recommend to an asipirant celebrant?

  3. Charles

    I’ve found that Civil ceremonies do a good job. they have good trainers and are honest enough about the job. They also use people that have ‘been there and done that’ (not sucking up Charles – looking forward to meeting you on the tribute course) and give practical training and advice. I have recommended them to several people asa good start. Not cheap, but you do get a qualification out of it. Not sure if the others do this

  4. Charles

    Jonathan, from personal experience only, the answer is no. My reflection has been that it very little prepared me for taking a service, which considering it was delivered by practising celebrants was a little poor. Surely if you are doing the job the essential elements become self evident, so it’s simply a matter of passing them on?
    I know this, 18 months later I could deliver a training course that actually delivers what it should. Tempting 🙂

  5. Charles

    I came into this profession over 4 1/2 years ago and have worked hard to build a reputation in my area – I originally trained with Terri Shanks at what was then White Lily – and the training was a good foundation, but I fortunately had a lot of experience of marketing, writing and delivery and leading services – but still it took me a long time to develop my own style – in recent times I was involved in the development of a 4 day funeral training course – which included a lot of practice within a safe environment – no it was not perfect, but I have not understood how funeral training can be effectively covered in two days.
    I spent many years in sales. management and presentation skills training, and for presentation skills alone we would train for 2 days – and in my view this is a huge part of the role.
    Over the last four years I have noticed a lot of new celebrants coming into the market all hoping to make a living from this new career – sadly the influx of new celebrants currently exceeds the demand, and yet the market continues to be flooded with new celebrants every month.
    In the Milton Keynes area I have seen at least 7 new celebrants in the last two years alone – this on top of those already working in the area. If there are, say, 40 funerals a week at Crownhill, and let us say that 25% of those are celebrant led, (it may be 30%) that means that 10 a week are likely to be led by a celebrant – and now with probably 10 or so celebrants working in the area – that make 1 a week per celebrant if they are shared out – or probably means some celebrants getting nothing and therefore spreading their wings further into other areas.

    I won’t go on!

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