From the Revd Sheila Rosenthal
Sir, - Would it be possible for the Church of England to stop
shooting itself in the foot quite so often?
I am a hospital chaplain, and have just received a circular
telling me, in effect, that I cannot take funerals of people who
die in hospitals, but instead must refer their relatives to their
local incumbent. Only if the hospital has a licensed chapel can I
take the funeral, or if the person has lived long enough in the
place to be deemed a "resident", which, the circular assures me,
will never be the case, according to the definition of The
Oxford English Dictionary.
As often as not, if a chaplain is asked by the family to do a
funeral, it is because they are not churchgoers, but have
encountered something of God in the chaplain, feel comfortable with
the chaplain, and want him or her to be involved. There may be good
reason for not wanting the local incumbent involved. Usually the
funeral will take place at a crematorium.
But no: we must tell the family to go to the overworked
incumbent, who may ask the chaplain to be involved, or who may
suggest instead a local retired cleric with as much knowledge of
the family as the incumbent has. And all this, the missive states,
is in recognition and under the aegis of the love of God.
Small wonder funeral directors simply miss out the C of E and
instead suggest humanist funeral celebrants, or even take funerals
themselves. It has become increasingly common for no service to
take place at all at a crematorium, but instead for the corpse to
be "dealt with" alone, before the family hold their own informal
ceremony well away from the dark doors of the parish church.
If, however, I am not an Anglican chaplain, then I can take the
funeral - and the fees.
This is medieval. It is trying to make a creaking parish system
work, behaving as if the parish priest knew all parishioners and
was to be involved in their lives at all points of passage, and as
if all people who lived in a parish knew their vicar.
I suspect that at the root of it is the money, ensuring the fee
goes to the diocesan board of finance; and why do dioceses have no
money? Because fewer and fewer go to church and pay in. And why do
people not go to church? Because the organisation comes up with
crackpot practices and requirements such as those described above,
which defy common and spiritual sense.
Gloucs GL56 9AE
From the Revd John F. H. Shead SSC
Sir, - I wonder whether I am the only person who finds the use
of computerised music, now seemingly in general use in many
crematoria, exceedingly distasteful.
First of all, the mourners find it very difficult to sing to
such an accompaniment, which they are often unable to hear clearly
enough to be able to sing to it. Second, an organist can play an
accompaniment suitable for the words of the hymn, some verses
needing a softer accompaniment than others.
It is also possible to keep the mourners up to speed by a
careful and considered accompaniment -something that the
computerised system is totally unable to do, since it seems that it
has been produced to accompany robots rather than human beings with
feeling, especially at a time when their emotions are particularly
Fortunately, those responsible for making the arrangements for
funerals often request an organist to accompany the hymns, and this
makes a tremendous difference.
Third, there are in the Church many organists who have worked
exceedingly hard to develop their skills, and who play Sunday by
Sunday, plus weekly practices with the choir, many for nothing or a
very small remuneration. The fees earned by playing at a
crematorium have often been a tremendous help to such good
Obviously the computerised music is here to stay, but I hope
that as many as possible who are visiting those who are responsible
for arranging a funeral suggest that a live organist be used for
accompanying the hymns. It will cost a little more, but it will be
well worth it.
JOHN F. H. SHEAD
57, Kenworthy Road
Braintree, Essex CM7 1JJ
From Ann Wills
Sir, - After reading the Revd Philip Welsh's review concerning
funerals (Books, 13 February), I
suggest that crematoria look at the music that they offer for
funerals. There seems to be a gap in the type of Christian music
available at funeral services.
A crematorium supplied us with a list of the music it could
supply. This was mainly pop, easy-listening music such as Frank
Sinatra, or traditional hymns played on an organ. There were no
praise and worship songs on the list, such as "Be still for the
presence of the Lord", which is a genre of music which is popular
with many Christians.These songs are appreciated by several
generations, as the orchestration is played on violins, keyboards,
flutes, and guitars, which blend well together.
Mourners would have to bring along their own CDs to hear these
Christian songs at the funeral.
Perhaps an enterprising Christian group or music company could
fill the gap and help crematoria add praise and worship music to
the choices that they offer?
67 Dulverton Road, Ruislip
Middlesex HA4 9AF