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  • Writer's pictureHardingstone Ceremonies

The Importance of Ceremony

Updated: Jan 28

Last week (November 2023) saw the publication of the report 'Love, Grief and Hope' by Madeleine Pennington with Nathan Mladin commissioned by Theos. The report examines the increasing secularisation of British society and suggests that because people no longer feel a need for a religious ritual, they no longer feel the need for a ritual at all and offers the statistic that only 47% of people say they want any kind of funeral after they die. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby writes in the Foreword that we are in danger of heading towards ‘a future in which death is increasingly taboo and grief shameful, possibly managed by technology, a future of ‘griefbots’.’ Like the Archbishop, I would argue that abandoning the rituals and ceremony surrounding death is a mistake.

Rituals are central to every society throughout human history and we cast them aside at our peril. Rituals and the ceremonies associated with them, connect us with our ancestors, reinforce our shared human and community experiences and help us navigate the most significant moments of life. Importantly, whilst rituals revolve around the central character(s) - the deceased, the wedding couple, the graduate and so on, they also play a critical role in marking the change of status for all participants. My own mother was convinced that marriage would make a fundamental difference to me and my then boyfriend, I can honestly say it didn’t - the difference for us was the decision to marry not the wedding itself. It was from that moment of commitment that our relationship changed and became one of complete union, permanence and a new family was established. For many of our friends and family however, it was undoubtedly the wedding that changed our status from young people with ‘an other half’ to husband and wife, a complete package.

I am quite clear that religious rituals are only really appropriate for those who have religious faith, anything else feels hypocritical but I am also convinced that as people turn away from religious rituals something needs to be put in their place. I held a naming ceremony for my own children at which we appointed ‘non-God parents’, shared readings which reflected our hopes and dreams for our sons as well as articulating our commitment to them. The days marked the arrival of the next generation in our family and as such were valued by us, the boys’ grandparents and other significant people in their lives. The boys themselves were too young to appreciate the occasion but it wasn’t really for them.

Whilst I appreciate that for some individuals a funeral seems an unnecessary fuss, expense or even hassle; I would suggest this is a mistake. The sense that ‘I am gone, what does it matter’ is understandable but I would argue that it matters a great deal. Those left behind have to learn to carry on, to live without their loved one and the rituals of a funeral ceremony can support them in their journey. I was struck recently by the story of a sister who pleaded with her brother-in-law to be allowed a chance to visit her sister’s coffin to say her final farewell. The brother in law acquiesced but was himself torn between honouring his wife’s desire for ‘no fuss’ and assisting his sister in law in her journey through grief.

Funerals are, of course, for and about the deceased; they should reflect the beliefs and wishes of the individual but they are also for the bereaved. One of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones is to have considered what you’d like for your funeral; it takes away one small stress when your nearest and dearest are faced with the unthinkable. However, I urge anyone to resist the idea that no funeral equates to no stress for the family and to consider rather that a funeral or at least a ceremony of some sort offers a path by which people can begin to navigate loss.

The great advantage of modern times is that rituals are no longer dictated to us by the church, the establishment or indeed anyone else. Ceremonies can be whatever we want them to be, from the formal to the frivolous; they can include music, readings and actions that are relevant to us and can take place wherever feels right for the people concerned. As an Independent Celebrant, of course, I am biased but am firmly of the belief that ceremonies and rituals play a critical part in signposting the significant moments in life and death.

By Catrina Young, Leicestershire Heart-led celebrant, Marking Life’s Moments.

© Hardingstone Ceremonies, Dec 2023

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2 Yorum

28 Oca

Catrina. When Brian and I were finally able to join in our Civil Partnership the ceremony was central for us to mark a change in our status. It changed us and also gave us a great sense of status and personal integrity. We insisted that the ceremony should take place in the local register office in Ashford where, as Brian said, all his family had been able to marry. The ceremony (and not the bash afterwards) made a real difference.

When, after some years, we were able to “upgrade” to full marriage we were disappointed, in a way, that there was no ceremony on offer at Maidstone Regisier office - we simply turned up and signed papers in an office…

28 Oca
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Thanks Alex for your thoughts.

I completely 'get' the significance of the Eucharist service following your marriage for you both and personally I feel the time is long overdue for the CofE to offer a full wedding to same sex couples; I am glad, however, that you felt the significance of your union was marked.

I agree that secular cremations can be vacuous and whilst I am obviously biased, it is for exactly this reason I would advocate having an Independent Celebrant to conduct the service if a priest/vicar is not appropriate. That said, like anything you have to do your research - the quality of celebrants varies enormously!! I aim to be the very best kind and will be…

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