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Clerical funeral director on the secular option

05 May 2010


From the Revd Richard Reakes
Sir, — In response to the Revd Christine Bainbridge’s recommenda­tion that clergy should talk to their local funeral directors (Letters, 30 April), I couldn’t agree more. As an ordained funeral director, I have spent many occasions talking with both parties on this and many other subjects.

Many people for whom I arrange funerals often mention that they want a Christian funeral, but they don’t want any mention of God, or any prayers to be said, or Bible readings. To my mind, there are three reasons for this. First, they want someone with authority to lead the service, someone they might know vaguely or have seen at other funerals; or, second, they want to use the church building, as it is the only large place in a community which can hold such a gathering (although there is a current trend to use village halls). Finally, there is something in their person that wants the comfort that the Church can give.

Since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, people are more aware of the options that are open to them, and wish to tailor a funeral to the beliefs and personality of the de­ceased. Sometimes these can conflict with the Christian faith.

As a funeral director, however, I am there to give families impartial advice on the options open to them, even if their wishes are contrary to my beliefs.

Until recently, there have been only two alternatives to a religious funeral: one led by a member of the Humanist Society, or one conducted by the family itself.

Now, however, there is the Institute of Civil Funerals, whose members conduct “a funeral which is 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 means that the bereaved are offered a pick-and-mix option, something that may appeal to the majority.

The question that all those who take funerals should ask themselves is what makes a Christian funeral: what elements are non-negotiable?

From a funeral director’s point of view, the great advantage of both the Humanist and Civil officiants is that they give a mobile phone num­ber and therefore can be contacted very quickly. Since taking funerals is how they earn their living in the main, they need to be available at any time. How can the clergy compete?

So, may I encourage all those engaged with funeral ministry to meet their local funeral directors, get them to a chapter meeting, or visit them at work. It would be eye-opening for all concerned. I firmly believe that a good funeral is a result of good relationships between ministers and funeral directors.
Chairman of Region G of the British Institute of Funeral Directors
Ashdene, Doulting
Shepton Mallet BA4 4QQ

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