Reverend Peter Ratcliff, a minister at St John’s Church of England based in Mill Road, South Wimbledon, says he is concerned about the growing trend in funeral services where families are allowed to read poems and tributes.

He said: “The minister should take the whole service himself without allowing family and friends to present poems and eulogies. It is his job and he should not stand down from his duty or hand it over to those who are not qualified. It is quite inappropriate to produce a Princess Diana-style modern funeral where the minister acts as a master of ceremonies, simply introducing one act after another. Though often not intended, this becomes little better than an entertainment show and an outpouring of emotionalism devoid of biblical truth.”

Tony Walter, professor of death studies at Bath University, said the most popular type of funeral in Britain today was a “pick ’n’ mix” affair in which the service included a combination of secular and religious readings.

“Families are no longer willing to be told what is, and what isn’t, appropriate when remembering a loved one. If and when we plan our own funerals, we want to be remembered as the unique individuals we are, not dispatched by a cut and paste anonymous, dreary ritual that all too often is the outcome of the traditional funeral,” he states on his website.

COMMENT: Oh dear. That a person can be so obsessed with the Bible over so many years and still be completely unaware of what it is actually all about is one of the great mysteries of the Christian religion. If God transforms why does God fail to do so with so many members of the priesthood?

However, my guess as to what is actually going on here is that this Biblically based man of the law is so unimaginative, uncreative and lacking in empathy that he couldn't organise the proverbial in brewery let alone an all-singing, all-dancing, magnificent send-off.

You see, if you are doing the job properly, you don't just let the mourners get on with it. You have to work with those who are going to take part in the service. You have to encourage them to be imaginative, creative and daring. You have to gently advise them of how a "show" works, how you have to bring out the different emotions implicit in each part of the ritual. You have to be fully conversant with what each person is going to contribute so that you can step in straight away if they crumble in the service. It takes a lot more work to do all this than to just get up on the day and say the same old things about "Jesus dying for us" that you said at the last funeral and the funeral before that, and the funeral before that etc. etc.

Furthermore, a priest who allows others to pay the tributes to the deceased at a funeral gives himself the opportunity to use his talky bit in the service to speak about God, in stead of delivering platitudes about some stiff he never met in life.

Of course, perhaps Mr. Ratcliff is just scared stiff of what his family might say about him at his own funeral and is making sure in advance that they don't get the opportunity to say anything.


I CAN’T SO YOU MUSTN’T — 18 Comments

  1. I mostly avoid funerals as they might be catching and at my age I don’t need to expose myself. I left instructions that I NOT have one. But one I went to the portion given by a friend told us more about the deceased that the minister’s portion.

    The minister did not know the individual as he (the deceased) had just moved back to town after a long absence. The friend’s tribute made it very meaningful for all of us.

    BTW – What book is the Rev. reading. Obviously not the Bible which is just opened before him. I sometimes wonder how many “Christians” actually read and understand Jesus’ message.

  2. I am 100% with you on this one.
    How dare anyone, least of all a man of God make such a cold, judgemental, unfeeling statement about an occasion which is so totally about the wishes of those who are grieving.
    Of course, certain patterns have to be observed and in the right hands, can greatly enhance the value of the memories of the service which will remain with the mourners.

    I am so gratefull that the clergyman who was ‘in charge’ of my husband’s funeral was the exact opposite of this unsympathetic individual.

  3. Certain priests that I used to know here felt this way as well. The funeral service was to stick to the rubrics. If you want the other kind (nose in air/sniff sniff) hold it at the funeral home and don’t bother with the church…

    Not that I agree mind you…just that it’s not only this guy or only in England.

  4. Some 7 years ago, I had the occasion of attending the funeral of a singular individual whom I was quite fond of. During the viewing, the pastor of 50 years in this church came over and we made small talk. At the conclusion, he looked me in the eyes (something he rarely did) and said with a conviction…

    “You know, of course, this isn’t about her. She’s gone on. It’s about those who are left. It’s for them.”

    Big words for the man whose wife was up there in the casket.

    It’s about those who come to grieve and make peace and we all come to that place in different ways. Mayhap Mr. Ratcliff and his ilk would be advised to be reminded of this.

  5. Mayhap Mr. Ratcliff and his ilk would be advised to be reminded of this.

    If he won’t listen to Jesus I doubt that he will be inclined to listen to anybody else.

  6. Having preached the homily, as a lay person, at my mother’s funeral, and realizing that I was in no shape to do so when it came time to bury my dad some six years later, I do permit family remembrances. I counsel beforehand; I tell them it’s okay if, at the time, they decide not to go ahead, and I am ready, as MP says, to jump in when/if the going gets rough. (Thought I was going to have to on Saturday!)

    And having, by accident, left my homily ’til after the family bits, I found, even though I did not know the deceased, that I had plenty on which to hang the good news of the resurrection, so I do my little bit, and I mean little, ’til after the family have had their turn.

    I’ve had my share of being argued against by my fellow clergy, but I find Her Grace the Holy Spirit has always led me to say and do the right thing and still let the family have what they need to grieve.

  7. Lois,
    I always leave my homily until after the family bits (and never by accident). I see it as giving God the last word. Often, I have no idea what I am going to say before the service starts, and I listen closely to the family remembrances, and trust in the grace of the Holy Spirit to put some words in my mouth to tie it in to the Scripture reading or the Gospel. Most recently I didn’t even know what the scripture reading was going to be until 10 minutes before the funeral (a granddaughter who was more versed in the Bible than her aunt who was planning the service and making the arrangements was assigned the task). Although I never knew the man, the family felt I was able to capture the essence of his life in my words, and give them a message of comfort and understanding.

    And of course, I’ve also encountered those who find great comfort in the Prayer Book burial office, and want it straight-up, without anything added to it. In that case, I’m happy to oblige. (but they are very much in the minority)

  8. I’m really sorry to say that I back Fr. Ratcliff On principle (even if I wouldn’t put it as he did).

    I mean to hand a funeral over to a bunch of untrained (and usually unskilled) nutcake survivors is going to mean sentimentality at best, cutsey at the midst, and drivel at worst.

    Let everyone do their bit and speak whatever words they want at the wake, but leave the ecclesiastical stuff to the professionals. (And anyone’s preaching of a eulogy is not common practice in TEC)

  9. John-Julian, no disrespect intended, but since a funeral is a rite and not a sacrament I’ll be happy to forego it if that’s the case. I’d much rather have disco music, good, lifelong friends reminiscing about me, and just the right amount of tears and laughter.

    The priest isn’t doing anything magical in my book that can’t be done quite as easily by untrained and unskilled human beings who actually love me and know me.

    And if some priest tries to communicate biblical truths and condemn me or convert someone else who is in grief (as happened at one relative’s funeral) I’ll stand up again, from the coffin this time, and tell the minister to stick to the deceased and to evangelize on his own time and dime.

    I know that’s not very kind and Christian but it’s who I am.

  10. I was never trained to do funerals. Fortunately I’m a natural 🙂 And in all the hundreds of funerals I’ve presided at (I”m in a national church so I can end up doing two or three a week) I have not yet come across an unskilled participant. In fact, they are always far more committed to the project’s success than I am as the hired help. I act – they mean it. However, I would suggest to you, Brian, that if you are to enjoy the corpse experience to the full at your own funeral that you do make sure you appoint a master of ceremonies (not necessarily a priest) who has the flair for such things and who will inspire everybody to achieve their best performance. That way everybody goes away believing they have done it right and properly for the deceased. It’s like hiring a professional producer for an amateur production of a Sondheim musical.

  11. I search in vain for a Biblical text actually outlining what a minister should say at a funeral. Of course, I’m not all educated in theology and such, maybe I’m just missing it.

  12. I’m pretty certain there will be a few unbreakable commandments about the number of first born goats that have to be sacrificed and how the presiding minister should ritually cleanse himself because he has been polluted by being in the presence of a dead body. But I’m sure Mr Ratcliff knows all the rules and, being a Biblically based believer, follows them to the letter.

  13. Back In The Day the deal with funerals was that the clergy dressed in black vestments, orange candles were burned on the altar, “Dies irae” was sung, and the bottom line was, “Whether we liked ol’ Charlie or not, the fact is that God is really pissed at him for being a sinner, and if we don’t do some serious liturgical moaning and whining, poor Charlie is going straight to hell.”

    It’s fine with me that we don’t do that any more.

    “Furthermore, a priest who allows others to pay the tributes to the deceased at a funeral gives himself the opportunity to use his talky bit in the service to speak about God, in stead of delivering platitudes about some stiff he never met in life.” You got that right, Jonathan.

  14. MP you, with your vast knowledge and library of excellent music of the disco era, would be ideal. Problem being funding such an extravaganza but I’ ll see what can be done cross-Atlantic. MC Mad Priest dj-ing. Now that’s festive!

  15. Seems to be a theme – remember the now-I’m-a-soldier-now-I’m-a-lamb Rev.(alleged) Ed Tomlinson?

    If these guys got laid by a rough trick it would solve so many of their problems.

  16. Dave,

    I think that, in one of the Levitical texts, it does say that the priest should not say “Poo,” “Bottom,” or “Bum” during the funeral, but other than that, no.

    wv: voldoint

    “Are your muscles aching from an evening of apparation and Muggle-torture? Try VOLDOINT!”