From the Revd Jeremy Brooks
Sir, - The Revd Dr Ian Meredith (Comment, 19
June) suggests that one solution to the decline in funerals led
by church ministers is to provide for a less religious service: a
sort of church-lite version.
I do not believe that new liturgy is required for this. The
Order for Funerals is one of the least prescriptive services
available to us, and there are always parts that can be omitted.
Furthermore, people use civil celebrants not because they do not
want a religious service: it is normal for these services to
include hymns and prayers. People will use a humanist minister if
they really want to avoid religion altogether - and only a tiny
Two weeks ago, 200 clergy and lay ministers gathered for the
first Church National Funerals Conference, "Taking Funerals
Seriously", at Stoneleigh, in Warwickshire. The timing and venue
were picked to coincide with the biennial National Funerals
Exhibition at the National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre,
where we had a stand; and, as part of the conference, all 200 of us
turned up at the show. Funeral directors to whom I talked were
delighted that we had come, and surprised that we had never had
much of a presence before.
If we want to take funerals seriously, we must take our
relationship with funeral directors seriously. Dr Meredith offers
some good ideas, such as training laity, and ensuring that there is
good pastoral care, but unless we invest in the relationships with
the gatekeepers, we will not have the opportunity to offer these
The Fitzwilliams Centre
Beaconsfield HP9 2JW
From the Revd David Primrose
Sir, - Dr Meredith's excellent article on funerals correctly
highlights how much we can learn from civil celebrants, and the
importance of good relationships with local funeral directors. It
also points to the Church's willingness to engage with grief that
finds little space when the emphasis is on "celebration". These
messages came out of the Funerals Project, piloted in his diocese,
which resourced the national conference "Taking Funerals Seriously"
The conference affirmed the spiritual and missional significance
of the Church's funeral ministry, and the support for the bereaved
which can follow. High-quality resources are available on the
website www.churchofenglandfunerals.org and
churchsupporthub.org, including GraveTalk (News, 22
May), which we have used extensively to provide safe spaces
where people can talk about death and dying.
Currently, Anglican ministers take one third of all funerals.
This can rise to two-thirds - for example in Walsall, where we are
working with the local credit union to address funeral poverty. The
national conference coincided with the launch of the Fair Funeral
Pledge, part of a campaign to reduce from one in seven the number
of families who struggle to pay for a funeral, which now averages
£3500. The emotional cost of a death must not be compounded by the
financial cost of a debt.
Director of Transforming
1a Small Street
Walsall WS1 3PR
From Alan Stanley
Sir, - I have been working as a funeral celebrant for the past
five years, and have encountered both strong support and strong
opposition from clergy. To give a solid theological and practical
rationale for what I, and others such as Dr Meredith's congregation
member, do, I have written a Grove Booklet, The Challenge of
the Funeral Celebrant: A mission opportunity for the Church
which will be published in August (www.grovebooks.co.uk).
Dr Meredith's point about the Church's offer of ongoing pastoral
care is well made, and in many cases it might be possible for those
civil celebrants who are also Christians, or sympathetic to the
Church's ministry, to routinely refer their clients for pastoral
support to local churches.
Rather than trying to "reclaim funerals", constructive dialogue
and understanding could result in a powerful synergy where the
strengths of both local churches and civil celebrants are brought
Cattle Lane, Aberford
Leeds LS25 3BN
Sir, - The deanery in which I minister and live has seen a
marked decline in the number of parochial clergy in the past
decade. It also has relatively few retired clergy.
In recent years, stipendiary clergy have seen their
responsibilities increase, not least in the area of administration.
Funeral directors can no longer finalise arrangements in one phone
call. Sometimes, a cleric is not available for a fortnight.
The consequent loss of pastoral contacts may be contributing to
the decline in church attendance. It is certainly reducing the
funeral-related income of the diocese.
It was suggested some time ago that deaneries could follow the
example of the Roman Catholic diocese of Liverpool, where lay
funeral ministers have assisted the dwindling number of parochial
clergy. The proposal was rejected on the grounds that such lay
funeral ministers could not preach, even if they could be supplied
with authorised sermons.
The number of secular ministers has now mushroomed, to the
extent that they are becoming the first port of call for funeral
directors. They are more readily available, and may take on
responsibility for the production of orders of service.
Dr Meredith's piece takes no account of hard-pressed clergy in
poorly resourced deaneries. What is needed is the imagination and
will to follow the example set by the RC diocese of Liverpool,
before it is too late.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
From the Revd Christopher Morgan
Sir, - I am a priest in an independent denomination, and also a
funeral director. As such, many of the services I conduct with my
ministry hat on are very similar to the civil-celebrant approach,
except that there are families who welcome the comfort of a
Of course, the inflexibility of some Anglican clergy has, in
part, contributed to a rise in civil celebrancy, although the
Church of England's drive to be more "user-friendly" in relation to
funerals of late has had quite an impact on those of us who are
effectively freelance clergy. I, for one, welcome a sea-change as
far as the C of E's approach is concerned. I have heard too many
horror stories from families upset by the vicar who took a funeral
for their family.
3 Queen Street, Swaffham
Norfolk PE37 7BZ
From Robert Andrews
Sir, - I welcomed the article on funeral ministry by Dr
Meredith, but one aspect that he failed to mention was the
financial implications for the Church of reducing the number of
funerals it takes.
Having taken early retirement, I now work part-time as
accountant for a funeral director with four offices in east
London/Essex. It is our company policy always to offer "notional C
of E" funerals to the appropriate parish, but we are finding it
increasingly difficult to get local clergy to conduct funerals.
Indeed, a newly appointed priest in one parish told us in no
uncertain terms that he does not conduct funerals except for people
who have regularly worshipped in his church.
It is not just civil celebrants who are now conducting funerals,
but also clergy ordained by the C of E, who resign or retire and
then operate without a bishop's licence as professional
funeral-takers. We now have to use such people for more than 50 per
cent of the "notional C of E" funerals. As a parish treasurer and a
former member of the Diocesan Finance Committee, it pains me to see
several thousand pounds paid to them each month - money that should
be contributing directly to PCC and diocesan funds.
I hope that clergy who regularly refuse funerals do not complain
when their diocesan parish share increases, because, as a result of
their actions, the diocese is losing a valuable source of
Dr Meredith touched on the pastoral importance of funeral
ministry. I am also an organist, and, when I play the organ for a
funeral conducted by a professional funeral-taker, whether ordained
or not, it is often clear to me that the first and only time that
they will meet the family is when the hearse arrives at the
At least when a member of the parish ministry team conducts the
funeral, there is an opportunity for continuing care of the
3 Sewards End, Wickford
Essex SS12 9PB