Funeral celebrant – in case you didn’t already know – a funeral celebrant is a person that officiates at funeral services by planning and overseeing funeral proceedings. Funeral celebrants conduct non-religious, semi-religious and spiritual funeral services. Many celebrants aim for the funeral service to be a ‘celebration of life’ that honours the person’s life and achievements. I trained with the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants five years ago and I love what I do. I can’t imagine giving the career of my dreams up now that I have taken a lifetime to find it. And so when I heard about a friend who had recently given up the profession, after seven years of delivering high quality, professional services and well liked by quite a few funeral directors in the area I was more than a little curious to find out why.
My friend, who I’ll call Danny, was working like me in a crowded area of the country, the south-east where funeral celebrants are now ten-a-penny with more flooding the market each month. He said “Jo, there are too many of us.” Funeral directors across Sussex and Kent tell me they see on average three new celebrants every couple of weeks coming through their doors to introduce themselves. It’s a lucrative business for the training schools. They charge upwards of £400 for a three day course and some will charge over a £1000. They’re on to a good thing and who can blame them. They will say “the best will always get work” and I guess that’s true. Because it’s unregulated there’s nothing in theory to stop them training more people. It’s not like working in the NHS or the Justice system.
Danny was an excellent celebrant. He injects warm humour into his speeches, has a lovely rapport with people and is highly efficient. But like most of us he didn’t earn enough. He didn’t conduct enough funerals to make this his main job and couldn’t support his family on the income, sadly. When I first started I took on extra work – evening care work – while my funeral celebrant business was growing and I hoped that I would eventually drop the care work and concentrate on funerals. This hasn’t happened because it’s a crowded market. I continue to do care work but I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t like to do too many funerals because it might desensitise me and might lead to mistakes. My funeral work cannot support me as a sole income. My main income comes from renting property and taking in lodgers, but my funerals are in a way my hobby. I love meeting new people, I love writing and I love public speaking. They help me save for holidays and treats. They are an added bonus.
Danny also cited other reasons for giving up. He said it was emotionally draining and there is absolutely no room for error in this role. I don’t find it emotionally draining. I find it emotionally rewarding. I love helping other people, listening to their wonderful life stories. Loss is all around us. It’s never far from our lives and so it feels as if we are all going through a range of emotions, day to day together. We are never alone even if it feels like it. I can remember how I felt when my mum died and this helps me emphasise with other people.
Danny is spot on when he says there is no room for error in this job. You cannot forget to attend the funeral you are conducting. It just cannot happen! You cannot be late either. You cannot forget your script or your jacket or slip up and say the wrong name or make a mistake on any detail about the person’s life. I have put in place all sorts of checks and balances to make sure mistakes don’t happen. I have heard of mistakes happening and this could, potentially mean the end of your career. I heard about a minister whose mobile phone started ringing in the service. Word got around. He’s not used anymore. I heard about a lady who dropped her glasses on the carpet during the service. The funeral director who told me this said it was sloppy and he wouldn’t be using her again. It’s sad I know and we are all human but we have to be as professional and perfect as we can be!
It’s a shame that Danny has given up. He was very good, but there is only room for a limited number of full time celebrants. Most of us have second jobs to support ourselves. I guess this is the way the economy is going in general. It’s the same in the retail sector but for very different reasons. In retailing employers now prefer temporary, part time staff so that they don’t have to pay for sick leave or holidays and other staff benefits. These are the times we live in.
Thank you for reading. Here is a link to my funeral celebrant website and the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants who I trained with: