When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Monday, October 19, 2009

They're not doing it his way

When Father Ed Tomlinson of St Barnabas's, Tunbridge Wells, complained in his blog that he has
"... 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!"
he probably didn't expect the negative publicity. His comments were reported in the local and national press, leading to criticisms that he was "insensitive" and "heartless".

Ed doesn't get it. Why would anyone want to have a personalised funeral ceremony, when he can offer "the gorgeous liturgy of the requiem mass"? That's just it, Father Ed. Ask most people who're rejecting the "gorgeous liturgy" option and they'll say that they've been to a funeral where the priest talked about God and Jesus but said hardly anything about their dear departed; certainly nothing that they recognised. "It could have been for anyone," they'll say, or, "I wondered if I'd come to the right funeral; I didn't know who he was talking about."

Father Ed despairs of hearing "My Way" blasting out of the crematorium speakers; I sympathise. It is very popular. Having heard it many, many times, I groan inwardly when anyone asks for it. However, as long as no one asks for "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam", I'll cope.

Father Ed thinks that his parishioners don't know what's good for them and he does. He says,
I know that ‘dwindling funeral syndrome’ is the shared experience of most every priest I speak to, save those served by undertakers of genuine faith or respect.
Does he mean that "undertakers of genuine faith or respect" should ignore their clients' wishes and point them in his direction anyway? I know some do, and if their client is determined to have a non-religious funeral they might give in very grudgingly.

Father Ed seems to think that Humanist funerals are inferior to his liturgical ones, but he probably hasn't been to many, if any (I've known priests turn up at Humanist funerals, exuding disapproval). There are rubbish Humanist funerals, and some great religious ones. No one has a monopoly of quality, but many families will say that the Humanist funeral they'd arranged was satisfying, honest, and moving; that it reflected the life and personality of the person who died without cloying sentiment; that it made them laugh and cry. And, Father Ed, contrary to what you might believe, we don't all do it for the money.

But he won't care. Father Ed is from the patriarchal, "we know best" Church tendency that can't understand why its authority is dwindling, fast. He'll sulk and sulk.

He wrote that when he dies, "I will still have the gorgeous liturgy of the requiem mass to look forward to." Pity he won't be there to enjoy it.


Megatonlove said...

Many men of the cloth sport enormous egos. It's a shame that despite their religious calling, they've learned nothing of true humility. As a child I listened to priest after priest preach sermons brimming with arrogance. Their message - whatever it was - was drowned by their bombast. By the time I was 13 I was convinced that religion had become nothing more than the politics of god.

When I die, the music at my funeral will be joyful and moving and loud. If anything resembling a dirge is played, I shall climb out of my coffin and give them what-for.

I love this and all your other blogs, Margaret. You are a wonder.

Margaret said...

Thank you Meg. I love you too.

Mary said...

Well written post.

I'm sure that for someone who is religious, a requiem mass or other devotional ceremony in a church is a wonderful and spiritually uplifting experience.

But religious rituals are only meaningful if one subscribes to the religion in question.

For someone who isn't religious, a church ceremony is the experience of sitting on a hard bench in a massive, draughty room, while someone up at the front drones a load of repetitive and unoriginal phrases that they have said so often that they have become devoid of any real passion or meaning.

I don't know what kind of funeral I'd like - it seems a bit redundant as I won't be in a position to enjoy or object to the content - but I'd definitely prefer it to be more about celebrating my life and comforting my loved ones, than about flattering a priest and making him feel needed.

garhol said...

Couldn't agree more. Having attended both religious and humanist ceremonies (weddings and funerals) I've noted that the humanist events are more relevant to the individuals involved and feel far more personal.
It just saddens me that my own wedding happened some time before I was aware of the possibility of a humanist ceremony. At least my funeral can be arranged in a way which will "work" for me.

Margaret said...

Thanks Mary, and thanks for your open letter, which I've posted on Twitter and Facebook. Especially liked the bit about cures - if only!

Margaret said...

Dear Anonymous, If you're going to abuse and insult me, at least have the guts to do it in your own name (and learn to spell and punctuate). You're right that I won't publish your comment, but thanks for making me laugh with "Your piece here looks like its written by a moron trying to get attention how very sad for a women of your ripe old age."

quedula said...

@ 'Anonymous'
I beg to differ. I think it is unstable, semiliterate, narrow-minded types that resort to gratuitous swearing that should be banned from the internet.

Margaret said...

Father Ed's blog's in The Times today.

I was just wondering if the anonymous ageist troll who wrote several nasty comments (unpublished) was one of Father Ed's parishioners? If so, s/he's setting a fine example of Christian charity.

HarpSkunk said...

Dear Margaret, having attended many family funerals the saddest has to have been that of my Uncle Bert (a lifelong communist and labour activist and devout evangelist atheist)the Vicar spoke about this man as though the 'Church' had 'got' him at last, this was of no comfort to the Christian members of the family and the whole service seemed frankly bizarre to his comrades and art group friends, then again the anger generated some fine and heated discussions and memories at the celebration we had afterwards! Thank you again for your blog it really is thought provoking. Tim

Margaret said...

Thanks Tim.

Maria said...

Excellent post!

Charles Cowling said...

Much as there may have been to knock in Father Ed’s blog post, I speak as someone of no faith who thinks it’s important to be faithful to facts—because it’s important to be fair, and because proper, productive debate depends on that. In important ways this blundering prelate has been mis-reported.

Tana Wollen, Head of Ceremonies at the BHA, says: “What a shame that this particular priest seems more concerned with his own feelings than allowing bereaved people a ceremony that reflects their beliefs and wishes and those of the loved ones they have lost.” This is incorrect. Father Ed is pro-choice. What he actually says is: “Naturally there will be those who disagree with my beliefs; I think they should have the right to exercise this choice even though I believe them to be misguided.”

You don’t have to be a religionist to sympathise with any priest who, charged with conducting a funeral according to the rites of his or her sect, watches their words fall on empty or hostile eyes. To feel like a lemon under those circs is only human. Why do so many unbelievers ask for religious funerals? Yes, that is the question. And as Father Ed justifiably asks, “if this is your position, why invite me to the party? ... If there is no desire for this Christian dimension then why have the priest?”

It’s Father Ed’s beef that “Christian prayers of ‘commendation and committal’ are not mere aesthetic choices in a market place of funeral options.” In other words, he doesn’t like his church being used merely as a nice funeral venue that knows how to put on a nice show. Who can argue with that?

Yes, yes, his Church (if not his church) is happy enough to indulge those who wish to use its photogenic buildings and genial rites for nice weddings. There is nothing straightforward in this.

We can all learn from each other. Father Ed says “I was actually seeking to raise a question which is important for all society – what are funerals for?”

It’s a good question, and anyone who thinks they have the answer has stopped thinking.