Having sought to make a church wedding a more attractive proposition (in the face of competition from all sides) it seems the Church has now moved on to addressing the falling demand for religious funerals.
Nick Jowett, Vicar of St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Anglican-Methodist Church in Sheffield, wrote in today’s Times of the growing marginalization of the local church and vicar in funeral preparation.
His view is that funeral directors have seized too much control over the planning of funerals, giving priority to funeral celebrants prepared to customise their celebrations, and overlooking the value of a link between clergy and bereaved families.
Jowett reports that a research project is under way to “examine and improve the Church’s ministry to the bereaved”. He acknowledges that overworked clergy may need help to understand how a sensitively conducted preparation and ceremony can ease the family’s pain, whilst allowing scope for the personalisation sometimes lacking in formal ceremonies.
Whatever your religious views, it is surely right that the bereaved be offered all the guidance and assistance they need in choosing their farewell. Often they will be unsure what the departed would have wanted, and be open to influence from funeral directors.
Rather than seeking to change religious funerals to relax the focus on formality and an afterlife, perhaps the solution is to ensure individuals are clear before they die as to what they believe, and how they wish to depart.
In this we would support Nick Jowett’s call for services offering clear guidance on the variety of services, burials and memorials available, their benefits and pitfalls, and a realistic idea of cost.
And, most of all, we hope we are doing our bit to encourage more people to give proper thought to whether or not they want a church funeral. It’s as good a place to start as any.