The context for our funeral ministry is changing fast. Funerals remain a vital area of pastoral care and mission opportunity, as part of our cure of souls. At the same time, greater expectations on the part of families, coupled with the recent rise of civil and humanist celebrants mean that we face new challenges.
Against this background, a series of meetings has been held across the diocese during the autumn of 2012, in which bishops and other clergy have met local funeral directors to discuss ways in which we can work together more effectively. Funeral directors recognize that in general, Anglican parishes offer a good service to bereaved families. But we all must recognize that there is always room for improvement. This note aims to set out some guidelines for best practice on issues which have been raised in these discussions.
Funeral directors are under pressure from families to arrange service times quickly. Sometimes this is because families are scattered across the country or even abroad, and travel arrangements need to be made. Parish clergy are very busy, but responding promptly to contact from funeral directors is vital.
Every parish must have a clear point of contact. This will usually be the parish priest, or perhaps the church office where one exists, but it could be a volunteer in the parish. An answerphone able to receive messages is absolutely essential, and messages must be answered the same day or early the following day.
If messages cannot be answered in this timescale, a clear message should be left on the answerphone with an alternative number to ring.
If a parish priest is going to be away on holiday, funeral directors should be given clear instructions about who to contact during that period.
It is being made clear to funeral directors that when arranging a Church of England funeral they must approach the parish in the first instance (rather than, for example, approaching retired clergy direct).
Once the initial contact has been made with the funeral director, contact with the bereaved family should follow promptly. Leaving a family waiting for days before making contact is poor pastoral practice.
The Funeral Service
Increasingly, families approach arranging a funeral with the assumption that they should have significant choice in what happens at the service. Civil and humanist celebrants offer bespoke services, and there is sometimes a perception that church services are inflexible by comparison. This is unfortunate, because Common Worship offers a large degree of flexibility. Clergy are therefore encouraged to take as flexible an approach as their conscience will allow, within the framework of Common Worship.
Different clergy will take different views about the range of styles of music they are prepared to countenance at church funerals, and this is understood. Funeral directors soon get to know the policies different clergy adopt. Sometimes, however, families will have made choices from the outset, and suggesting changes can be a pastorally sensitive issue. Where a church service is followed by a committal at the crematorium, it might be possible to suggest that it would be easier to accommodate some musical items at the crematorium.
Clergy and Readers should familiarize themselves with the flexibility Common Worship offers and be prepared to make use of it.
Families are increasingly asking for PowerPoint facilities, for example to show pictures of the deceased person’s life. Where churches have such facilities and the wherewithal to use them effectively and reliably, this can be a creative and helpful addition.
Parishes will be aware of important changes which have been made to funeral fees recently:
From 1 January 2012, this diocese has come into line with national guidance, such that retired clergy may retain 80% of the ministry fee, with the remaining 20% being payable to the DBF;
From 1 January 2013, the status of all parochial fees in the Church of England has changed, so that the ministerial element is now the property of the DBF. In addition, there is renewed emphasis on transparency so that it is clear what the basic fees cover, and so that families are not hit with hidden extra charges.
Against this background, the way fees are handled by parishes requires particular care. PCCs are acting as agent for the DBF in respect of the DBF’s portion of the fees. Separately, funeral directors have expressed unease about paying fees in cash. They have also queried the practice some churches follow of requesting separate payments to different individuals for different elements of the fee (organist, verger, minister etc), because this causes difficulty in terms of financial accountability, and it might possibly create an employment contract between an individual and the Funeral Director. Parishes are therefore asked to implement the following procedures, which reflect the practice already in place in many parishes:
There should be an adequate paper trail so that there is transparency and clarity. This might include an e-mail acknowledgement of a funeral booking. Some churches send Funeral Directors a confirmatory invoice, and this can be a helpful way of ensuring clarity for all concerned.
All fees in respect of a funeral service should be paid in one cheque (or by a BACS payment) from the funeral director to the PCC.
The parish should then divide the fee between the relevant parties (PCC, DBF, retired priest where applicable, organist, verger etc). These payments should be made by cheque (or BACS transfer) if possible. If cash is to be used, you must follow the Charity Commission guidance on handling cash payments (www.charity-commission.gov.uk/publications/cc8.aspx, para D6).
Please note that charging for ‘extras’ is not permitted unless they are genuinely optional and agreed in advance by those arranging the funeral. Examples include organist, choir, bell-ringers, flowers, printing of service papers (if done by the church), verger, special heating.
In setting fees, parishes need to follow the current Fees Table and also the Guide to Church of England Parochial Fees, published in October 2012 and available on the Church of England website. This provides further guidance on what can constitute an ‘extra’.
In exceptional cases, such as financial hardship, it is possible to waive a fee. If it is felt that there is a genuine case, please speak to your archdeacon or to the diocesan secretary for authorisation. There is to be no charge for the funeral of a child of 16 years or under.
Collections and donations
Families often ask if a collection might be taken at the funeral for a particular charitable cause, perhaps relating to the care the deceased person received during illness. Some churches have in the past refused to allow this, on the grounds that any offerings made in church should be for church funds. Such a response is highly questionable pastorally and missionally.
Where families ask that donations might be made to a particular charity, the church should facilitate this by inviting the funeral director to provide a clearly-labelled plate or box for such donations. The funeral director should then normally be responsible for the handling of these donations after the service.
It is of course also true that even where donations are requested for another cause, mourners might still wish to make an offering to the work of the church. So alongside the plate or box for the charity, a clearly-labelled place for donations to the church can be provided.
Funeral directors recognize that the church can offer continuing pastoral care of the bereaved, whereas civil celebrants do not. This is a very important part of the service we provide for people at their point of need.
Wherever possible, a follow-up visit after the service should be offered.
Families should appear in the church’s intercessions.
Families should be put in touch as appropriate with whatever bereavement support network the parish is able to provide.
Families should be invited to any periodic services for the bereaved, All Souls Tide services, etc.
Diocese of Chester, January 2013