Rise of the celebrants

words: Linda Jones & Stewart McRobert

Across the UK, bereaved families are increasingly turning to celebrants to conduct the funerals of their loved ones. It may be the secular nature of modern Britain that is the cause of this trend, and in most cases families receive a first-class service.

However, anyone can set up as a celebrant regardless of expertise or experience. That can prompt concerns about issues such as insurance cover and what would happen if something went wrong.

Over the years, various trade associations for celebrants have grown. They set standards of operation for their members and now include insurance with their membership. It is probably wise to make sure any celebrant you use is a member of one of these bodies.

We gave several of the most well-known organisations a chance to tell us about themselves and put the spotlight on humanist celebrant Caroline Lambie.

“As Associate and Provider members of SAIF and the NAFD, the AOIC supports their joint aims to improve professionalism in the funeral industry and attend all national meetings and conferences of both organisations, ensuring that their members receive any relevant information and updates.

“The AOIC does not train new celebrants, but concentrates on supporting, mentoring and helping members, and works with NOCN (previously the National Open College Network) training providers, recommending a training programme to ensure that training is to the highest level.

“The AOIC has led the way forward by providing professional indemnity insurance to all members, which other associations now include in their membership.”

Phil Spicksley, President
Association of Independent Celebrants

“The County Celebrant Network was set up to provide a service for people who appreciate help by a professional body in stressful times and for ceremonies where experience and expertise is needed.

“It is generally thought that because of wars and the millions who have lost their lives, religion suffered with many families turning their back on God and places of worship.

“Because of this, alternative non- or semi-religious services started to appear. The celebrant concept evolved and today there are many celebrant organisations, societies, associations and networks in the UK, some offering an Ofqual qualification. However, it is worth knowing they should not call themselves a humanist if they are not a member of the British Humanist Association (BHA).

“The BHA, which was founded in 1896 [as the Union of Ethical Societies] and formed in the UK in 1967, has embraced the rise in secular ceremonies.

“A BHA funeral service is completely without any reference to ‘God’, and does not include any hymns, psalms or poems with religion in them which suit many families’ ideals.

“The ‘civil funeral celebrant’, while similar to the humanist celebrant and based on ‘a celebration of life’ service, is different because it can include elements of all religions, if the family request it.”

Eric Gill, Chairman and Hon. Secretary
County Celebrants Network

“In response to the rising interest in humanist funerals, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has almost doubled the number of funeral celebrants being trained in the last two years.

“Along with the advantages of choosing a BHA-accredited funeral celebrant is the provision of public liability insurance and the organisational support that ensures that the network is regulated.

“A robust training course and the presence of experienced peer mentors ensures that new BHA funeral celebrants are given all the skills and knowledge they need to perform well and meet high expectations. The BHA’s accreditation structure ensures that all BHA funeral celebrants continually perform to the highest standard.

Natasha Gray, Interim Head of Ceremonies
British Humanist Association

“I never cease to be amazed how many times I arrive to see a bereaved family who have requested a ‘non-religious’ funeral but who then later on in the meeting say ‘Oh, could we sing All Things Bright & Beautiful, have Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer included please.’ Or the conversation may go along the lines of ‘Mum didn’t go to church, but she did believe in God’, or ‘We believe in something, we are just not sure what’.

“My experience in conducting more than 3,000 funerals now is that there are definitely more people who have some form of religious/spiritual belief than those who have absolutely none.

“We are, without a doubt, living in an increasing secular society where more and more people find they are not associated with any organised religion or church, even though they hold onto their own faith and beliefs.

“I have also witnessed a pattern of an increasing percentage of people having what I would class as a blending of beliefs, for example: ‘She was raised a Catholic and held onto her Christian values, but at the same time very much found solace from Paganism and Buddhism.’

“We are all unique in our beliefs, philosophies and lifestyles, hence why, as a celebrant, I am passionate about creating and delivering funeral ceremonies which reflect our uniqueness and respect the individual wishes of the deceased and their families while, at the same time, sensitively acknowledging the beliefs of each and every person attending a funeral.”

Terri Shanks, Founder
Fellowship of Professional Celebrants

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