I did a crematorium funeral today and got into conversation with one of the staff, someone I've known for years. Heard some horror stories about incompetent celebrants, some trained by organisations, some not trained at all. Any old Tom, Dick or Harriet can set him or herself up as a celebrant; there are no rules. Typical case is someone who's recently retired and thinks it'll be a good way to earn some extra money. One women, who hasn't had any training and doesn't seem to know what she's doing, is "a nightmare," said my friend. She hasn't a clue about time limits or sorting out the music. She'll tell them she's going to do one thing, then do something completely different during the ceremony. Why any funeral director would book her is a mystery. Another, who had been trained but clearly hadn't been advised about presentation, has turned up at funerals looking like she's been dragged through a hedge backwards, stinking like an ash tray. I've also heard recently about a celebrant in the next county who failed to turn up for funerals not once, but twice.
I was told, as I suspected, that the training organisations aren't too bothered about how many people they train to work in an area, and ours is over-supplied with Civil Celebrants. They're probably unwilling to turn people away and lose the income from their fees, currently £2,220, including VAT, with Civil Ceremonies, or £1,920 with the BHA. When someone's forked out about £2,000 there's possibly a reluctance to fail them - does anyone get a refund if they don't pass? - and some might feel that, having paid all that money, they're entitled to a reasonable amount of work to recoup their expenses. According to one or two people who've paid a lot of money for training, the quality's been disappointing. One applied to train with our team, having felt ill-prepared by what she'd been given elsewhere.
When I started work as a celebrant, there were no fees (and hardly any celebrants). We've never charged anyone for training within our group, though we're very fussy about accepting trainees. Over the years, an increasing proportion of our work has been repeat business (families we've worked for before), people who've attended one of our ceremonies, or word of mouth recommendations. Years ago, I met someone at a meeting in London, a highly-regarded man who'd been involved with the British Humanist Association since its inception, and told him about how we did things in Suffolk. No fees, but we expect potential trainees to get to know us, and vice versa, and to have all the necessary skills and qualities. It's like an apprenticeship, there's no time limit, and they learn by shadowing experienced celebrants and taking advice from all of us. After they go solo, they can rely on the rest of us for support. "That's the humanist way," said the venerable gentleman, and he was right.
Hearing my crematorium friend's stories made me realise why the staff always seem pleased to see me; at least they know what to expect. I thanked my driver for coming to collect me and he said, "Any time." Being car-free isn't necessarily a disadvantage if you're any good, it seems.
Sadly, no one of any real promise has come forward for training with us for some time. Two of us are over seventy, with health problems, and the other has family and work commitments that prevent her from doing many ceremonies, so how much longer we'll be able to carry on, I can't say. There'll be no shortage of celebrants to take funerals in Suffolk when we stop. Some are very good, some are OK, and some are horrid. You only have one opportunity to get a funeral right, so choose carefully. If you were buying a car, you'd shop around, wouldn't you? A funeral is much more important.