Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Funeral celebrants - why do we do it? part 2 - £££?

I should say that I'm chiefly thinking about celebrinisters who share my lack of belief in an established religion and broadly speaking don't think there's a soul, a non-physical individual entity, nor do they believe in an afterlife, above or below stairs.

Celebrinisters who follow an established faith system presumably believe they are helping with a sacred rite that commends a soul to its God and offers the consolation of their faith to those who share it. At least, I hope they believe so, or else what's going on? But then, faith/not faith/new faith/bitsa faith, it's a rich but puzzling environment, and in many situations, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto. I'm told by a Quaker that "Quaker Humanism" is one of their growth points. But, er, humanists, according to the BHA website, don't believe in an afterlife or a God, so...h'm. All interesting and fun, too. (Good people, Quakers, I find.) But I digress. As usual. Sorry.

So why do we do it? when we have no faith conviction and no faith community office or title such as vicar, priest, elder, rabbi, imam etc. that would make it a matter of religious vocation and function?

Let's try to get the money thing out of the way - not settled, just out of the way.

There are those of us who do it because they can, and because they rely on the income, to varying extents. If they were BHA-trained, they were told, quite plainly and before they started out on the expensive training, that you can't earn a living at it even if you work flat out, the equivalent of full-time. Some of us still grumble if they feel they are not getting enough ceremonies (to generate the cash they need, though they don't always admit that) and yes Charles, it is this that can lead to fruitless and irrelevant tensions about "my" territories and "my" FDs.

In my case, a little extra hard-earned cash is welcome, but I'm lucky - it's far from essential to the running of Gloria Mansions. I could earn between 3 and 4 times as much per hour/day doing what I used to do, as a part-time consultant, so I'd be pretty stupid to do it for the money. I guess several of us who are in retirement could say the same; it's only a guess, but I think quite a lot of us were or are what's sometimes called "professional people."

This really isn't to exhibit my smugness, at least, that's not my intention! but just to make the point - plenty of us don't do it because we "have" to, financially. Some do have to, it seems, and my fear is that it may distort their practice. Sorry if that sounds patronising. Maybe they've more stamina than me - I really can't do more than two good (?effective?honest?) funerals in a week. It is tiring and draining, and on the few occasions I have done three, I've been furthered knackered by worrying more than usual that I'm going to make a mistake. If I didn't find it demanding, I'd know it was time to stop. You can't predict or control the rate, of course, but one a week with a few weeks away from it to re-charge, would suit me well.

There's nothing wrong with being paid. Religious celebrinisters are paid, often but not always, less than us. (I'm not getting any further into that one, thanks.) It is a service we are seeking to provide, and at least paying for it means if a family thinks we messed it up, they can complain. If it was a charitiable, free-of-charge thing, wouldn't people feel more inhibited from complaining if someone gets it wrong? That's how it seems to me.

And we all have the option of donating our fee to charity, or declining payment for a special case of some kind. I know that happens sometimes.

Conclusion: Some of us may well be doing it principally for the money. Maybe that pressure will grow if hard times are ahead. I very much doubt that money is the only reason for doing it, even for those of us who need to do it to pay basic bills.

So enough already with the stuff about the dosh, eh?

Thanks for sticking with an important but mostly quite boring area of discussion, next time, more psychologically interesting areas, I hope.


  1. Gloria,

    Are you writing a book? Your posts are prolific. I can hardly keep up at the back here.

    I used to go to a Quaker school. We used to sit in silence every day for assembly; and an hour every Sunday in a special weekend extravaganza.

    In a Quaker meeting the idea is that the hand of God may move anyone to speak (or indeed "quake") and that the words will be the insight of God. At least that is what I understood from what we were taught.

    Given the time and climate of the times in which it was first established quite enlightened really.

    Indeed I remember having to read a book about many of the other religions of the world, and was particularly struck, in my Gaulish schoolboy life, by the Buddhist practice (I think,sorry if I've got that wrong - it might have Zaro Astrian?) of "sky burial" in which the body is left out on a mountain and the birds eat it and take it away. The body being now uninhabited.

    Strangely the hand of god moved the headmaster to speak most days, but very seldom anyone else; except on Sundays when other adults were moved.

    I do remember once a boy was moved to speak about love, and to our shame we all mocked him mercilessly - such is the open mindedness of children.

    That's an anecdote, not a sermon by the way.

    Does anyone ever have a funeral without any celebrant or minister at all? Can it be just be people that loved and knew the person? Or is that illegal?

    A bit of a tangent I know.

    Also not trying to suggest you are superfluous at all . . . just asking . . .

    Keep posting.

  2. I guess a spiritually democratic mechanism in an authoritarian structure moves God to put His Finger only on the Head, Arkers, to avoid insurrection. (I mean, we've all seen "If...") Suppose it had also involved the Holy Ghost? Where would it stop? You'd all have been speaking in tongues. No maths homework.

    Yes indeed, families and friends sometimes run their own funerals entirely,and I would cheer them on. Really. The "lots of them and a bit of me" model is more common. The "all or most of me" is the most common still - but the times they are, very slowly, changing, I believe.

    I have on a few occasions asked if the family really wanted or needed me, because they seemed full of good ideas and competence, and (obviously, or I wouldn't know about it) they've said they just wanted a front man to stop them worrying about procedural things, and to say A and B, but Uncle Eric will say D, Auntie Doris E,and so on. And would I stand by in case little Dolly/Benji cracks up and can't manage it. (Dolly/Benji at this point says "of course I can manage it," and every time except one, so far, s/he has. Which is impressive, it's a tough call.)

    They have been the most rewarding and interesting funerals I've done. Not necessarily the most moving or upsetting, but very effective and honest funerals. And - theirs. A good fit. Excellent. My ideal is that celebsters put themselves gradually out of business....would take many years and cultural changes, but could happen.

    So - far from being a tangent, yours is a very good question. Thanks for the comment. Good to hear from you.

    A book? H'mmm. That's a dangerous suggestion.

    By the way, as far as I know, there are no laws about having a funeral at all, provided you register the death, fill in all the bloody forms and get it all signed off by the doctor etc, and observe basic environmental regulations for cremation or burial. DIY is fine. There's even been a recent test case about outdoor cremations. Nothing yet on sky burial. In the UK, we just don't have the bird power....