My name is Alan Stanley. Six years ago before I took an early retirement from my dental practice, I had been asking the Lord, ‘what next?’. I knew that there was always the probability that people, and especially people in the church, would say ‘now that you are retired would you..?’ One of the mainstays of my Christian life has been spending time with people outside the church in some tough places: prison and homeless shelters for example. So it really was not a great surprise that on the first day of my retirement I took a funeral in my church (I am a Reader). On the second day, I took a funeral. It certainly looked like God was saying something.
A few years previously I had met a Funeral Celebrant and it seemed that God was calling me into this role. I visited my local Funeral Directors, many of whom I knew from my church funerals, and soon I was taking three or four funerals a week as a Celebrant who was known to be a Christian. I met one other Christian who was a Celebrant. She belongs to the Salvation Army and was very encouraging. My own vicar understood that I believed this to be a vocation, but I felt that I was orienteering without a map. This led to me taking an MA in Liturgy and then writing a Grove Booklet (W 224 The Challenge of the Funeral Celebrant: A Mission Opportunity for the Church).
Why have I told my own story in some detail? Simply to show that I believe that God has given me a vocation to bring a Christian presence into people’s lives. The funerals that I take as a Celebrant are those that might otherwise go to another Celebrant, not a Christian minister. The world of Funeral Celebrants is expanding rapidly and includes many non-Christian options, such as humanist, atheist and a host of other choices which offer some form of alternative spirituality. To make the most of every opportunity, we need trained Christians rooted in the fellowship of their local church to be in this market place.
We need this to show the love of Christ to the bereaved, and share the hope of the Gospel.
Over the past six years I know that I have made mistakes, I know that I am on a journey of discovery, but I know that being a Reader has given me the tools to do the job. It would be great to have the fellowship of other lay Christians who also feel a vocation to this work.