From the Revd Christine Bainbridge
Sir, — While I sympathise with the suggestion about promoting Christian funerals at the register office (Letters 16 April), I think it may be optimistic to assume that funeral directors will automatically recommend this option.
Admittedly, the default position for undertakers is a Church of England funeral. For many years, it has been a one-size-fits-all approach. Increasingly, though, with a sharper focus on consumer choice, funeral directors try to offer a far more individually tailored service. Parish clergy have, on the whole, adapted to this. We are flexible about choice of music and readings and length of tributes, while holding to the parameters of a Christian funeral.
My observation is that this situation is changing rapidly. Fewer funeral directors are churchgoers themselves, and the majority of funerals involve those with little or no religious preference. Families want an event that focuses on the deceased and honours his or her values. They may decide that they are more likely to obtain this in a non-religious ceremony. I think that undertakers are quietly beginning to offer this choice.
Recently, I attended a humanist funeral. It was ably led, and included silence for people to pray if they “came from a faith tradition”. The bulk of the service was taken up with tributes and reminders of the ways in which the lives of those present had touched on that of the deceased. I thought that, if I had been a mourner of no particular faith, I might have experienced this as a very satisfactory alternative to a C of E funeral.
If current trends continue, the default C of E funeral will end, and a Christian ceremony will join the niche market. Even more important than putting up posters is winning the hearts and minds of our funeral directors. They are the ones who guide the choices made by the bereaved. They are the ones who need to understand the value of a Christian funeral.
Attractive though it was, the humanist funeral contained an aching void. It was as though the deceased was suspended in nothingness. He had come from nowhere, and was returning to nowhere.
We really do have something to offer, although I suspect that we may need to be more amenable to what counts for customer satisfaction in the eyes of our funeral directors. Let us at least have this conversation with them, and not unwittingly give up the opportunity we have at present for offering to a wide cross-section of our community a funeral where there is a glimpse of an infinitely bigger picture than that of the deceased and his or her immediate family.
St John’s Vicarage
St John’s Vale
London SE8 4EA