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Find a place for funeral celebrants

by
31 May 2013

iStock

From Mr Alan Stanley
Sir, - The Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, is right in most, but not all, of what he says in his article ( Comment, 24 May) urging the Church to win back funerals from celebrants.

He overstates the Church's case by implying that parish clergy always provide pastoral follow-up. The Church relies heavily on retired clergy for funeral ministry, and many of these work across parish boundaries. It would be instructive to know how they provide follow-up. With the recent débâcle over fees for retired clerics taking services at the crematorium, the Church may have lost a lot of good will from this invaluable resource.

Bishop Atwell's second confusion is to equate "celebrant" with "secular". I know a number of Christian celebrants who see their work as mission on the edge. I am one, and am constantly disappointed to find the clergy hostile to my work. We build relationships with families and communities over time, and are able to keep the rumour of God alive in unexpected ways, and in hard-to-reach groups.

Celebrants can be trained to be effective funeral-takers over a long residential weekend and with mentoring support. Without doubt, if the Church trained committed lay people in taking funerals, and each parish had an effective programme of ministry to the bereaved, parishes would win back funerals. How many times have I heard funeral directors say: "I'm still waiting for Revd X to get back to me; so I've rung you"?

Bishop Atwell has spoken a challenging word to the Church. Please let us respond in an imaginative way, not by simply laying more work on the shoulders of parish clergy.

ALAN STANLEY

Reader and Funeral Celebrant
Assbridge Lodge, Cattle Lane
Aberford, Leeds LS25 3BN

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