Funeral guidance during the Covid Crisis

Rev Juliet Stephenson from the Good Funeral Company gives advice on holding funerals at this time.

With the nature of funeral ministry changing during this time we have published updated guidance from Rev Juliet Stephenson on good practice,

It covers
  • some ways of thinking creatively 
  • guidance on numbers of mourners
  • hints for parish priests
  • what we can offer
  • memorial services
If you need any further help or support, contact Juliet on 07940378223 or juliet@goodfuneralcompany.org.uk

Thinking creatively
Doing everything by telephone and email, sounds like a great way to gathering information, but we all know, the nonverbal ways we communicate and pick things up from those we visit and
minister to, are as important, if not more.

We have to be even more intuitive and questioning because we can’t use the incidental visuals that we so readily rely on. So, we can no longer ask about that series of wedding pictures on the mantelpiece or the graduation certificates on the wall. The sulking cat, or sad dog that’s missing their master, the countless condolence cards surrounding their home, and the myriad of flowers balanced on every shelf and surface.

Number of mourners
We have been given guidelines from the national church, about who is classed as immediate family. This differs from other guidance from the funeral industry, which seems less strict, and accounts for the circumstance when the deceased has distant relatives and close friends.

We are looking to leave this directive with the funeral directors to manage. They will have already had the conversation about the restrictions, numbers, curtains, music, time allocation, flowers etc. It doesn’t really matter what the makeup of the 10 mourners are, we are just called to minister to the ones who are with us.

The funeral director will know what the current situations are so you can check with them first, but at the time of writing this all crematoria in our diocese are limiting to 10 in attendance in chapel and graveside.
Hints for parish priests
We are still in competition with the other service providers, so now it’s even more vital we work collaboratively with one another and with our colleagues in the funeral industry

Area Deans
  • Know the restrictions on the local facilities in your area. Communicate these with your parishes. It’s worth checking each Monday in case there have been any further developments.
Parish priests
  • Keep in touch with your local Funeral Directors. Call them up and let them know that you are available for families.
  • Work collaboratively with your neighbours. Cover one another’s days off. If a FD asks you to take a service and you ‘can’t’ – please say YES. And then find someone to cover.
  • And please, please, please - get in touch with the family immediately. Even if it’s just to arrange a time to call later. This is vital. It enables them to know that you are there for support from very beginning.
  • If you are conveniently placed beside a crematoria, then let your FD’s know. On more than one occasion, I have been asked to ‘step in’ at an hour’s notice, when someone (vicars and civil celebrants) have called in sick.
  • Be prepared for more than one telephone call to a family, and even different members to get the details needed for the service.
  • Use email as much as possible, this gives confidence to the family, if they know what structure you have. This also ensure that all names and relationships are correct (it can be difficult getting the family tree right when you don’t have someone in the room making sure you’re getting the information written down)
  • Speaker phones, face-book messenger video and zoom works too.
  • Offer follow-up memorial conversations. It may be appropriate for a family to have a ‘bespoke’ service in your church at a later date, or it may be adequate that they know they will be invited to a memorial service in the autumn.
  • And keep in touch with them.
What we can offer
The confusion has arisen over what we call ‘what we do’. Sometimes it is seen as we will only do traditional funerals. For the funeral directors, they sell this as ‘the book’. Please remember that we conduct the service on behalf of the family, in order that they feel by the end of the service they have said a ‘good farewell’. Offer choice, offer variation, offer individuality, offer prayer.

Offer thanksgiving, offer hope, offer blessing.
  • Remember, we have resources that the civil celebrants do not have.
  • * We have lots of colleagues who can cover for us.
  • * We live in the same community.
  • * We have buildings that we can use for memorials at a later date.
The importance of getting back to the essentials
  • In many ways, funerals have become events that are managed. We are one of the elements requested by the family to slot into the funeral, and are seen as no more significant as flowers, cars and music.
  • Now, this is stripped back, we can with honesty say, that the prayers we offer as powerful, if not more real, because we gather with only the nearest and dearest. Perhaps they can’t get the day, time, coffin, flowers, venue they want.
Perhaps they don’t feel the need for a long ‘this is your life’ eulogy, because everyone knows that story anyway….

But what they can have, is the essence of the character of that person.
More personal, more heartfelt, and prayerful.

The very last thing we do is leave someone’s soul in the hands of God. And it gives comfort.
Thinking about memorial services
  • In your Deaneries, discuss what you think you could offer. Perhaps choosing one large church with the best facilities might work for your corporate memorial services.
  • For individual family memorials – use your own buildings and offer what space you have. It might be appropriate for the wider family and community to come together to church for a thanksgiving with the ashes present.
  • Be aware that there is a possibility that you may be asked to do several of these, so think about a strategy with your colleagues for managing this.
  • Fee or donation? It has not been discussed at this stage. Currently there is no set fee for a memorial service. Ask your Archdeacon for advice.