Funeral Celebrants: What are They and Why Use Them?
By Gail Rubin, CT
According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 56 million Americans have no religious affiliation, making “nones” the second largest religious group after evangelicals. And their numbers are growing.
Americans who choose “none” as their religious affiliation have few rituals to guide them when a death occurs. Many don’t know what to do for a funeral or memorial service.
In addition to the “nones,” there are those who haven’t attended religious services in years and feel uncomfortable around members of the clergy. But when Mom or Dad dies, the kids may feel the need to have a religious official do a traditional funeral service. Unfortunately, a traditional religious service won’t help the non-religious effectively process their grief. That’s where celebrants come in.
The civil celebrant movement started in Australia in 1973. The Anglican and Roman Catholic Church liturgy wasn’t working for the general population, especially those who were divorced. The government started licensing celebrants — non-clerics who could perform weddings and funerals outside of a religious ceremony. The movement recognized that nonbelievers and secular people have a place of equal respect in society.
Celebrants provide completely personalized memorial services that reflect the personality and lifestyle of the deceased. As opposed to taking a “cookie cutter” approach to funerals that have a predictable sameness, celebrants are trained to construct a meaningful, memorable “good goodbye” for all kinds of situations.
A good celebrant incorporates those unique stories, songs and experiences that defined that person, and create a theme for the memorial service. The celebrant has a library of resources available for readings, music, ceremonies and personal touches.
Prior to the funeral, a celebrant will meet with the family, listen to their stories about the deceased, discuss what was important to the person, and learn the impacts he or she made in life. This family meeting and discussion provides an opportunity for grief healing to start.
Based on this conversation, the celebrant formulates the elements of the memorial service, consulting with the family on specific aspects. They may discuss the setting, eulogy, readings and music, ritual participation, and other speakers. The celebrant may provide a surprise memorial takeaway gift for all attendees, or discuss what memento would be appropriate and let the family coordinate a parting gift.
In some cases, the celebrant and funeral director will both be involved with a memorial service at a funeral home. Alternatively, a family can work directly with a celebrant to construct a meaningful service after cremation has taken place.
Doug Manning, a former Baptist minister, brought the celebrant concept to the United States in 1999. He founded the In-Sight Institute to train and certify funeral celebrants. The Institute provides local listings of trained celebrants at www.InSightBooks.com.
The non-profit Celebrant Foundation & Institute also trains celebrants in a range of life cycle events, including weddings, births, coming of age and deaths. They offer a list of celebrants through their website, www.CelebrantInstitute.org.
The free eBook, Celebrating Life: How to Create Meaningful Memorial Services, with Templates and Tips, recently became available online. I co-authored this handy guide, which includes celebrant-inspired memorial service ideas. Download your free copy from InTheLightUrns.com.
Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement. She’s a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, business communications, estate and funeral planning issues. Author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, she is a regular contributor to the AAEPA blog. Download a free planning form from her website, https://agoodgoodbye.com.