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Funerals: a hospital chaplain’s plea, and music in crematoria

06 March 2015


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.

Springwood Cottage,
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 high.

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 people.

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.

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

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