I was aged six, Leroy was just seven, and he was wearing a suit and tie. He was fast asleep in a box in my godmother’s front room. I thought the box was on the ironing board; I now know it was the undertaker’s trestles. The next scene was the graveside. Held tightly by Leroy’s mum (my godmother), I can still hear her wailing.
I haven’t stopped attending funerals since.
I became a funeral celebrant, as I was fed up of listening to badly written eulogies, and hearing ministers portray untrue images of the deceased – often distant and, at times, absolute folly. I became frustrated with angry sermons on sin and hell, executed without love by the untrained. The sin message should bring about conviction, even awkwardness, but not a ‘switching off’. For this very reason the Church is losing bodies – both the living and the dead. Families are therefore turning to civil celebrants.
It’s important that the Gospel is heard; we need not negate the cause, but at times we miss the mark and lose people. A learning tool for ministers is that it is not us but the Holy Spirit who draws and saves. We are simply tools, and tools need to be sharpened.
Jesus paved the way with the ‘Woman at the Well’. He was strategic in His timing, His approach and in His communication. He spoke truth but without damnation. Jesus used excellent methods; everything was executed in love. Funeral services are a great time for church ministers to take the opportunity to win souls, but often to their detriment the result is a ‘pushing away’ as opposed to a ‘drawing to’. I wish church ministers could learn the difference between acting in love and doing for love.
There is a changing face in funerals. Families are no longer being dictated to by establishments that have little empathy or passion for funerals. As an independent celebrant and funeral arranger, I encourage my families to be creative with their funeral ceremonies.
The role of the celebrant is to work with families to create and present a ceremony that is primarily focused on the life of the deceased. Mourners, however, are not aware of the choices available to them.
1) a funeral ceremony need not take place; a body can be directly cremated or buried;
2) you do not need to use a funeral director – mourners can store the body at a convenient place, and prepare it for burial or cremation;
3) embalming is not necessary – ice can give the same results;
4) the ceremony can be kept at home and, if you own the land (with notices and permission), you can bury your loved ones on the land;
5) funeral ceremonies need not be held in a church or crematorium.
The stigma attached to death has caused us to become reliant upon the undertaker. However, there are some communities who take on a greater role and execute much of the procedures themselves. I find the Black community has the largest funerals, but are reluctant to invest in this predominantly White, male-dominated industry.
Last month, I organised the funeral for my late uncle. His delight was Bells Whisky, a good tune and a ‘good smoke’. Funeral services are for the living but, as a celebrant, I ensure that I extract the good and moral behaviours conducted by the deceased whilst they were alive and, during the ceremony, make much mention of the same. Reggae was his love, so the body entered to a John Holt classic, ‘Morning of My Life’. He loved his horses, therefore, after the eulogy was read, we played the timeless ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ – a song about a racing horse. His body exited to the Hopeton Lewis track, ‘Grooving Out on Life’. We selected non-offensive music of his era, with lyrics that were relative to his life. The conventional ‘Amazing Grace’ was replaced by the Sanchez (reggae) version, and ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ rang out on the steel pan. However, the Scripture remained the same – a reminder that the Sovereign God is omnipresent; that we cannot move left nor right without Him (Psalm 139).
Hardened men lamented at the beauty of the ceremony. One seasoned funeral attendee remarked that he had “never been removed from a church before” but, after two and a half hours, he was so enthralled by the service, he wasn’t ready to leave when asked by the ushers.
80% of the mourning families I visit require a non-religious service, and I use this opportunity as a channel for evangelism. To date, I have never conducted a service without religious content.
We are not all Christians; we therefore need to look at the bigger picture, using these occasions to get the people into the churches. After all, Jesus used a cup of water!
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