Bereavement and funerals: a far-reaching need

Broadcast on March 11th 2021, this webinar revealed how people have been affected by death and grief in the past year and where they think the local church can help.

Based on new (January 2021) independent research on behalf of the Life Events team, this webinar shared some surprising insights, opportunities and challenges for us in this ministry which touches every community.

Presenter: Sandra Millar, Head of Welcome and Life Events, with guest Benita Hewitt, research consultant, 9 Dot Research .



Follow this link to see Sandra’s presentation slides (opens a PDF): Funerals webinar March 21



Q: If people want to engage with the church online in relation to bereavement and funeral ministry, what would they find helpful – and how can we give them what they need?

A: We’d recommend you review your parish website, making sure there is a message of welcome and a clear link to ‘Information if you’ve lost someone you love’. On that page, let people know the church is there for them, for the day of the funeral and ongoing. You might provide a link to the national Church of England Funerals pages for help with planning a funeral, along with your contact details and those of your pastoral team. You might also provide a link to At A Loss if they need immediate help with bereavement support. Finally, think about whether your church could run The Bereavement Journey online as part of your bereavement ministry, or, when it is safe to gather again, run a GraveTalk event.

Q: Do we need explicit permission to contact people after a funeral to invite them to memorial events?

A: Do contact your diocesan office for information and advice about GDPR and also follow this link for more on GDPR and Life Events. Keeping in touch with families about memorial events is likely to fall within ‘legitimate interest’ so may not require explicit permission by law, but it’s good practice to ask families anyway.

Q: Please can you say something about GDPR and ongoing contact – particularly how you sensitively ask for their consent to keep contacting them and to share their details with a church bereavement team if appropriate?

A: When you’re having the first conversations about the funeral service and/or for a remembering service later on, you are collecting details at that point. This is the moment to ask if you can hold their data and keep in touch in the future. Tell them the church is always there for them and the bereavement team would like to be available for ongoing support, if that is something they would like.

Q: Are there any guidelines/resources for setting up and running a bereavement cafe from church? Either a cafe to take away some of the taboo around discussing death – or a safe place where people can talk when someone has died.

A: Yes. The Church of England offers resources to run its own version of a death cafe, called GraveTalk. Find out more here.

Loss and Hope offers support to run “The Bereavement Journey” which offers a safe space for those bereaved to process their feelings, online or in person. It’s not a cafe as such, but you might organise it in that way in your own context.

Q: Why do people choose direct cremation – is it to do with cost? Do other factors come into the decision making for those involved in the research?

A: The research shows that a number of factors are at play in people, including those who are regular church-goers, choosing a direct cremation [a cremation without any ceremony at all, where the body is collected and cremated, then the ashes are returned to the family]. Several people did mention cost, but they were thinking about being a burden on their loved ones. They also saw organising the funeral – even going to the funeral – as a burden. Others rejected the idea of a traditional service with 46% saying they wanted a “simple no-frills funeral”. Very sadly, some people felt that a direct cremation was for the best, because they felt that there was no-one to attend their funeral.

What is clear is that there is a huge pull of advertising, particularly aimed at older people, persuading them that a direct cremation is a good option, avoiding all the fuss and expense. What people want for themselves and what they would choose for others close to them is not always the same, though; nearly a third of regular church-goers would consider a direct cremation for themselves, but only 11% of all respondents would consider it for a loved one. The Life Events team will conduct a special analysis of the direct cremation aspects of the research and will bring you more information on this in due course.

Q: Our local crematorium advertises on its website ‘Crematorium celebrant service’, giving a phone number to ring and book a celebrant and offering what they do. There is no mention that people can have a faith-based funeral and who to contact if you would like to plan one. What do you suggest we could do about this?

A: Addressing this is all about building a really good relationship with your local funeral director and crematoria staff. There’s some advice about how to do this here on the Church Support Hub. When it’s safe to do so, you might invite them for coffee to talk about how you can support their business, and in particular, why it’s important to include faith-based funerals to all, even if families don’t consider themselves to be ‘religious’.