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Funeral ministry in the Church of England

by
01 February 2012

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From the Revd Bob Kenway

Sir, — I am grateful to the Revd Jeremy Brooks (Comment, 27 January) for highlighting the decline in funerals conducted by the Church of England. He makes some important points, and it would be good to have a contextual analysis for the statistics in terms of urban, suburban, and rural ministry. Has this decline been uniform across the country?

I have spent half of my 30 years of parochial ministry in an urban setting, and half in a semi-rural set­ting. Formerly, in my urban par­ishes, the majority of the funerals that I took were in the crematori­um; but, after moving to a small town in Wiltshire, I found that the reverse was the case.

The relationship between the parish church and its community is clearly vital. For many, that relation­ship has declined over the years as a consequence of both an increasingly mobile population and a market-driven secular culture.

We should remember that, for many people these days, the internet is often the first port of call in accessing information about ser­vices (bearing in mind that next-of-kin may not live locally). Are we as accessible there as we should be? Mr Brooks is also right to draw attention to the importance of the relationship between the clergy and funeral directors: failure to be accessible, I know, is a real issue for funeral directors.

For a while, we have been told that the Church has to move from pastoral to mission mode (as though it were an either/or), and many clergy feel a tension about this. Yet I am sure that we need to have more confidence that these key rites of passage around birth, mar­riage, and death provide opportun­ities for sharing gospel hope and love like no others in our lives and communities. Somehow we need to be encouraged to see it that way.

BOB KENWAY
The Vicarage, 4 Vicarage Close
Calne, Wiltshire SN11 8DD

From Prebendary Charles Chadwick

Sir, — While the Revd Jeremy Brooks is surely correct to highlight the recent changes regarding funerals, we should be under no illusions about just how far popular understanding of funerals has altered in recent years.

A dominant theme seems to be that of funeral services’ now being called celebrations of, and thanks­givings for, a person’s life; and tributes are increasingly common. Of course, this can make the service, quite correctly, very personal, but it does not leave a lot of time or space for Jesus and the resurrection within a 20-minute slot at a crematorium.

CHARLES CHADWICK
7 Durleigh Road
Bridgwater TA6 7HU

From the Revd Pamela LLoyd

Sir, — After retiring from full-time stipendiary ministry, I was invited to be the Thursday duty minister at our local crematorium. This I did for 16 years.

I got to know the funeral dir­ectors very well, and sympathised with their difficulties in contacting incumbents when families were waiting in their parlours to make arrangements. On two occasions, I spoke to the Canterbury deanery chapter on this subject, and floated the idea of using the ministry of housebound parishioners in each parish to be available during office hours in order to answer the phone and take funeral bookings, either for the church or crematorium.

This would depend on incum­bents’ being given times of avail­ability, perhaps a fortnight at a time.

PAMELA LLOYD
9 North Holmes Road
Canterbury, Kent CT1 1QJ

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