If we can sparkle he may land tonight

Charles 4 Comments

What is the role of ritual in a secular funeral service? What does a contemporary ritual look like? These and related questions have been debated many times on this blog.

So we were intrigued to learn of a brand new ritual created by the Church of England to celebrate Godparents’ Day. Quoting from today’s Times:

“The Godparents’ Sunday liturgy suggests that the service should begin with an informal welcome, the minister telling the congregation that they can behave like a football crowd, clapping, raising arms and shouting Alleluia “really loudly”. A “cantor or group of voices” should shout “God is great!” with the worshippers responding “Let the people praise you!” The guidelines state: “Repeat as often as feels right.”” … The clergy should “invite people to hold up hands, palms forward, fingers spread and move them like twinkling stars”. The minister then states: “As we think of the stars that shine, so we remember those who shine brightly in our lives and in our church.” … [The order of service] suggested that vicars should bring felt pens and Post-it Notes to church so that their congregations can contribute to a “memory wall”.

We were all the more intrigued to learn that this ritual has been created by the Rev Sandra Millar, head of projects and developments at the Archbishop’s Council and i/c restoring the popularity of C of E funerals. We’ve spent quite a bit of energy, in our ecumenical way, trying to maintain a dialogue with Sandra — without a great deal of success, it has to be admitted.

Dr Nazir-Ali, former Archbishop of Rochester, harrumphed when he heard about Sandra’s new ritual. He said “lapsed churchgoers expected reverence and awe rather than “touchy-feely group dynamics and the atmosphere of a class in primary school. When they come into a church, worshippers should sense the presence of a holy God, not the bonhomie they may experience at bingo.””

Worshippers, however, seem to have liked it. So is there anything here for secular funeral celebrants to plagiarise?

What about the star-twinkle finger thing as the curtains close?


  1. Charles

    Quite why anyone concerned with secular ceremonies should be influenced by this is beyond me. I do think,though, that these proposals are excellent recruitment material for the Prayer Book Society.

  2. Charles

    Before you can tart talking about ritual in any meaningful way you have to know what it is for. In terms of secular ritual (which is, in my opinion, sadly lacking) that is where you have to start!

    1. Charles

      In my understanding, when it comes to funerals, ‘secular ritual’ means, “Oh shit, we’ve got a few days to put together a funeral that departs from the predictable norm but we’ve no idea where it’s departing to, much less what it’ll look like or what it’s for.

      Secular funerals are still in their infancy, floundering around figuring out which way is up. We don’t know how to respond to death because we don’t talk about it, and all people seem to know is what they don’t want.

      Time to refame it. Secular isn’t a departure from religious, it’s a way of being in its own right and needs no reference to an irrelevant alternative. ‘Secularity’ may not decree what secular funerals will be as, by their nature, they belong not to secularity but secularists, who follow no creed, not even necessarily secularism. So we’re having to uninvent the wheel, and go by air with no navigator, and if secular rituals lack something of their religious alternatives it’s only because they’re inexperienced. So far.

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