Celebrants Offer More Meaningful Funerals

Aug 15, 2011 | 1 comment

Meaningful funerals. Isn’t that a given? Aren’t most funerals meaningful and personal? If you’ve been to one recently, you know that’s not always the case.

A recent article on Miller-McCune.com explored aspects of the services offered by celebrants.

“Families with no house of worship or clergy too busy to lead a service may resort to a “rent-a-minister,” says Glenda Stansbury, dean of the In-Sight Institute in Oklahoma City, one of the organizations that train funeral celebrants in the U.S.

Such fill-in ministers, typically meeting the family for the first time right before the funeral, often use a template service; there are horror stories of funerals where the deceased’s name is mispronounced or not mentioned at all.

One widely publicized example was the 2010 wake for author Philip Carlo. Actor Tony Danza, one of Carlo’s close friends, reportedly walked up to the priest during a long-winded soliloquy about religion and said, “Excuse me, but this is not about you. It’s supposed to be about my friend, and if you can’t do that, maybe you should let someone else speak.”

If clergy members don’t always support grieving families during funerals, it may be that they never learned how.

“You have to understand that clergy people are not trained in funerals. You would think they would be, but they’re not,” says Doug Manning, a minster and president of In-Sight Books Inc., parent company of the In-Sight Institute. “You go to seminaries, they never teach you about death, dying or funerals.”

Beyond that, some houses of worship see funerals as an opportunity to evangelize about their faith.

Today, the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys ran my guest post on their blog related to celebrants and funeral services. Here’s some of the content of that post:

The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association recently held their summer university. I attended the ICCFA University College of 21st Century Funeral Services and came away with a new perspective on how funerals are changing.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a psychologist trained in life transitions who spoke there, said, “More and more people in North America are asking ‘Why have a funeral?’”

People are saying, “When I die, just get rid of me no muss, no fuss. Maybe have a party, but I sure don’t want a funeral.” “Dad said he didn’t want us to go to any trouble, so we are just going to do what he said.” “We just thought it would be easier, faster, and cheaper.”

Wolfelt said that efficiency should not be confused with effectiveness. He said, “We’ve gone from funerals to memorial services to celebrations to parties. In the process, we have lost the connection to grief and emotion.”

People are losing sight of the value of holding some kind of ritual service, a safe place to grieve and mourn. Very often, the people who don’t recognize a death with a funeral or memorial service are in a psychologist’s office six months later with problems related to unexpressed emotions.

We in the U.S. have become an increasingly “mourning-avoidant” culture, where people tend to want to avoid sadness. At a meaningful funeral, people laugh one moment and cry the next as they share stories that cause laughter as well as tears. This experience of “paradoxical emotions” results in what Wolfelt calls the “sweet spot of emotional experience.”

Visit the AAEPA blog for the rest of this post!

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