So Ed Tomlinson, a UK Church of England vicar, has been ripping in to secular funerals. He himself is looking forward to the “gorgeous liturgy of the requiem mass. . . . Whereas the best our secularist friends (and those they dupe) can hope for is a poem from nan combined with a saccharine message from a pop star before being popped in the oven with no hope of resurrection.”
The TimesOnline says Tomlinson is the “vicar of St Barnabas’s Church in Tunbridge Wells, a ‘Forward in Faith’ parish that rejects the ministry of women priests.”
Sounds like sour grapes to me. Because he also laments that “priests are no longer in demand.” “It is another significant sign of how Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society.” Funerals are being placed “in the hands of humanist provider(s).”
He claims to see a positive side to this:
“And yet there is a positive side to this if I am honest. In the last few years it has become painfully obvious that many families I have conducted funerals for have absolutely no desire for any Christian content whatsoever. I have then stood at the Crem like a lemon, wondering why on earth I am present at the funeral of somebody led in by the tunes of Tina Turner, summed up in pithy platitudes of sentimental and secular poets and sent into the furnace with ‘I did it my way’ blaring out across the speakers! To be brutally honest I can think of a hundred better ways of spending my time as a priest on God’s earth. What is the point of my being present if spiritually unwanted?”
But he reveals what are probably the real reasons for his regrets – which are no doubt shared by others in his profession:
“I am saddened to discover yet another arena of life in which the church is moved from the centre to the margins. I am equally troubled that pastoral care is being left in the hands of those whose main aim is to make money. And I am further concerned that an opportunity for evangelism is slipping through our fingers.”
We want genuine funerals
Well, Ed, I think evangelism is one of the reason for the growing trend towards secular funerals. People have got fed up with ceremonies full of irrelevant supernatual mythology, paternalistic assumptions about the “faith” of the mourners (and the deceased) and the lack of any real concern or respect for the deceased. Today we want to have a genuine celebration of that life.
Many of us now have a mature attitude towards death and find the appeals to a supernatural afterlife more disrespectful than comforting. I have certainly found today’s “secular” funerals far more genuine than the old religious ones. They provide more opportunity for the celebration of the life being remembered. And the ceremonies are therefore often more beautiful and moving for this.
It’s also a bit rich for Tomlinson to charge that humanist and other secular celebrants “main aim is to make money.” This coming from a representative of an institution that always has its hands out, that invents supernatural demands for their congregation to tithe and cynically claims tax exemption for their religious income and work.
My own funeral
Perhaps its a sign of age, but I have thought about what I would like for my own funeral. I have no objection to undertakers, caterers, etc. being paid appropriately. However, no priest or other religious official, or their church, will get a cent from my estate. Nor will any political party. There will not be any official role for those organisations. I have no wish for such a cynical use of this occasion.
And, yes, I hope it will be beautiful and moving. I want the music to include pieces from Verdi’s Requium Mass. Sure, it has a religious content – but should we reject great music, operas, etc., because they are about fairy tales, the Greek gods, etc? It is beautiful music, part of a culture that belongs to all of us – religious and non-religious alike. Surely that is reinforced by the fact that Verdi himself was a non-believer.
And, perhaps I will even ask for it to be held in a beautiful building – like an old church. After all, I have helped to finance these building through my taxes over the years. And, again they are part of our culture.