After a funeral today, I had an interesting conversation with one of the staff - one of my fans, especially since I did a funeral for a family member.
He'd been listening, as he was chapel attendant today. He said he always enjoyed my funerals, and the ones that are conducted by my colleague, D. They're how funerals should be, said he. He was never keen on religion, but working at the crematorium and having to listen to so many religious funerals, he's even more atheist than before. I've heard the same complaint from other crematorium staff and funeral conductors (the people from the funeral directors who manage the event) ; religious funerals are all the same; they're irrelevant; they're more about God than about the person who's died; they're boring. Yes, I know they're not all bad, but I hear a lot of negative comments.
My friend said that, soon after he started working at the crematorium, there was a funeral that was to be led by a family member, an American preacher. He used the opportunity to preach hellfire and damnation, shouting at the mourners (several times) that they were all sinners. After about five minutes, the family had had enough. They told him to shut up and sit down. My friend said that made him wonder if his new job was going to be more interesting than he anticipated.
On the whole, however, it hasn't been that interesting. Day after day, week after week, he hears the same hymns, the same prayers, the same stuff about so-and-so going to be with Jesus. No wonder the staff tend to get quite excited when my colleague or I turn up. We aim to provide a ceremony that's relevant and unique, and we often include humorous anecdotes - so there are laughs too. Oh, and the music is better, I'm told. He was delighted when D turned up the other week and announced that the music included Ian Dury and the Blockheads - "There aren't half some clever bastards!"
My colleague, being male, probably doesn't get kissed very often away from home. I get kisses from clients and funeral directors, like the one I got today from the conductor waiting to do the funeral after mine. Few people can claim to enjoy job satisfaction and kisses.
I've been kissed by clergy too. A couple of retired clergy are old friends, including the one who did my parents' funerals. He once kissed me in the vestry, in front of a member of staff, who said in mock horror, "You kissed an atheist!" "That's all right," was the response, "it's not catching." I beg to differ.