Better together

Charles Cowling

handshaking-4

 

Sexual intercourse began, Philip Larkin reckoned, in 1963. So, roughly, did the secular funeral. It was about this time that the BHA began to develop its celebrant network.

Uptake wasn’t dramatic at first; most unchurched people carried on having bleak and meaningless duty-minister funerals all the same. By the turn of the century, though, it was clear that numbers were fast falling away from the church, and it was in 2002 that the zeigeisty ‘civil’ funeral for people of fuzzy faith or swirly spirituality was transplanted from Australia by Professor Tony Walter. Civil Ceremonies Ltd began to train ‘civil’ celebrants (Prof Walter is still one of the tutors) to conduct funerals “driven by the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family, not by the beliefs or ideology of the person conducting the funeral.” This formula was taken up by green fuse in Totnes and then by the AOIC. Infighting at the AOIC begat all manner of breakaway training outfits and professional associations. The cost of training became a competitive issue when new providers entered the market with cut-price, ‘microwave’ training.

We can talk about the value of training another day. Can it do more than merely get you started? Can it turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse? Or even a halfway decent suede one? Does training weed out those who aren’t good enough? Wouldn’t apprenticeship work rather better? As I say, another day.

A consequence of the upsurge in celebrant training is that some areas of Britain are now flooded with bright-eyed rookies trying vainly to get a foot in the door, watched with uncollegial fear and loathing by incumbent practitioners. The number of training orgs has gone off the scale.

The self-regard of secular celebrants is high, bolstered by the touching gratitude of the families they work with. Lest this self-regard lapse into complacency, let’s have a look at three areas possibly requiring attention.

1. Why do you all hate each other?

There is, to all appearances, vastly more that brings celebrants together than drives them apart, shared vocation for starters. So, why so little interdenominational dialogue? 

Why all this silly internecine stuff that fuels feuds? Humanists mutter bitterly of pick ‘n’ mixers and prostitutes. Pick ‘n’ mixers and prostitutes mutter that humanists are arrogant and out of touch, the IoCF is too corporate, green fuse is hippy-dippy, ministers are wicked. Some organisations are too commercial, selling celebrancy as a nowt but a nice little earner; others offer externally accredited diplomas at an unnecessarily high academic level. All organisations think they’re the best. 

To anyone on the sidelines it looks as if navel-gazing issues, commercial concerns, petty jealousies, the promotion of self-interest and making the best of things as they are, not as they ought to be, engross you to the exclusion of vastly more important matters. 

Oh, and the truth is that all celebrant organisations churn out some celebrants who are stunning and some who are rubbish. You need to sort that. 

2. Why the complete lack of thought leadership?

There is a very lively, issues-rich debate going on these days out there in society about dying, death and funerals. Name one contribution to this debate made by the celebrant orgs. Go on, one.

Celebrants, you are intelligent people and the best of you are reflective. Collectively, yours can be an influential voice. But you can only begin to contribute when you start talking to each other.

3. Why the denial of client choice?

Celebrancy does not offer, for celebrants, a level playing field for open and fair competition. It’s no job for a proud freelancer. Undertakers, many of whom are little interested in the value of the experience offered by a good funeral ceremony, are still the arbiters of who gets to work and who doesn’t. This suits the palm-greasers (the sort of who slip their FD fifty quid for every funeral), the grovellers and the dependency junkies. It works against talented new entrants for whom career progression may be a matter of dead person’s shoes.

This comes at the cost of the very thing everybody in funerals says they care about most: client choice. If it is good and right that the best celebrants thrive and the worst go to the wall, then it is clients, and only clients, who can be the arbiters of that.

Client choice is easily enabled. The website funeralcelebrants.org.uk already enables bereaved people to type in their postcode and find out who’s in their area. Only a very few of the listed celebrants have enabled feedback. Tcha! Every celebrant can link to their website on which they can have a video clip so people can see if they’re their kind of person, and a calendar showing their availability — like a holiday cottage.

But first you need to get together and show a united front to the undertakers. Are you up for that?

If it’s the interests of bereaved people that matter to you most, as you say, it’s time to drop the bickering and put them first.

 

17
Leave a Reply

avatar
13 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
9 Comment authors
Hazel PittwoodRu CallenderSimon SmithJennifer UzzellJon Underwood Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Hazel Pittwood
Guest

‘a good many FDs do not attend to what’s going on inside. If the FD’s role is one of impresario — if the FD’s job is to get the logistics right (there’s a strong case to be made that that’s what it is) — then there’s every reason for letting the celebrant get on with it .’ Hi Charles, can I ask your source for the claim that ‘a good many’ FDs don’t attend what’s going on inside? I’d agree that, amongst many other roles, our job is logistics but even on that basis, if anything or anyone is going… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

Too many celebrants. Crematoriums are getting like Haight Ashbury in ’67.

Simon Smith
Guest

I disagree that we are all at loggerheads and I also don’t agree that we all need to be a cosy bunch. There are some powerplays going on, such as the ARC attempt last year, and I think we are also entitled to have an opinion on what makes a good training for celebrants, how long and thorough that training needs to be, and not encourage would-be celebrants to go down the cheap and cheerful route of thinking a weekend of training is enough to learn a complex and multifaceted role. In fact, Charles, Jane and I at Green Fuse,… Read more »

Jennifer Uzzell
Guest

Personally we wouldn’t dream of leaving during the funeral for a variety of reasons most of which have been mentioned here. Another which hasn’t is to sort out anything that goes wrong such as curtains closing or not closing when they are supposed to (so one of us can nip out the back and poke the attendant) or, at the more extreme end, a member of the congregation becoming (quite seriously as it happened) ill and needing to be got out quickly and an ambulance called. No, no way we would not be there! As for clergy…as you all know… Read more »

Jon Underwood
Guest

Thanks Charles. Fantastic piece 🙂

MC
Guest
MC

‘Better together’. Maybe. I’m not sure how much time the training orgs are wasting on squabbles, petty or otherwise. But I do think that a good celebrant is a good celebrant regardless (and in spite of) the training they’ve received. Unfortunately as is pointed out here, bad celebrants before they’re trained are still bad celebrants afterwards. Why don’t more FDs have a brochure of celebrants for clients to peruse? If they did, I bet that the least important criterion for the client would be where the celebrant did his/her training.

Richard
Guest
Richard

A Celeb, I think its understandable FD’s don’t sit through many ceremonies when waiting for their cue to perform. Shakespearean actors smoke and gossip when off stage. The musicians in the orchestra pit at the ROH seem unaware they can bee seen from the cheaper seats in the Gods. When the diva sopranos are taking their bows, members of orchestra are packing up their instruments and sauntering off home.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Ministers are surely not widely seen as wicked. Some might tar all ministers with the same brush through prejudice. Most would accept that many are excellent and others not. There remains millions of regular and irregular worshippers in the UK, many of whom know, respect and adore their minister. Other non-churchgoers might call on a minister they don’t know, often ending up impressed and other times not. The advantage of trained/ordained ministers is they are used to ceremony and public speaking. DItto civil celebrants who have been teachers or local radio DJs, for example, or who trod the boards in… Read more »

A Celeb
Guest
A Celeb

OMG Charles – you love winding us up don’t you?! Perhaps I’m naive but (most of) the funeral directors and arrangers I know do want to use the best celebrants. It’s got to be good for them hasn’t it? You know that bit when the mourners are heading for the flowers? It’s just great for the funeral director to hear that everyone is genuinely delighted with the funeral and thanking the celebrant – and not just a mumbled and cursory thanks.

Ian
Guest
Ian

“Undertakers, many of whom are little interested in the value of the experience offered by a good funeral ceremony, are still the arbiters of who gets to work and who doesn’t. This suits the palm-greasers (the sort of who slip their FD fifty quid for every funeral), ”

Nice to see that you hold celebrants and funeral directors with the same high regard. I actually find that statement offensive.

Ian
Guest
Ian

a. that funeral directors aren’t interested in the quality of the service received from the celebrant
b. that anyone would ever suggest that celebrants are bunging £50 to fd’s who use them. Do you have evidence of this and if so, please name the culprits.

…can’t comment on any other part of the country but round here we have these amazing speaker systems which mean that you don’t actually have to be in the room to hear the service. Technology, eh. Who’d have thought it.