Today’s Funeral Services and Certified Celebrants

The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association recently held their summer university. I attended the ICCFA University College of 21st Century Funeral Services and came away with a new perspective on how funerals are changing.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a psychologist trained in life transitions who spoke there, said, “More and more people in North America are asking ‘Why have a funeral?'”

People are saying, “When I die, just get rid of me no muss, no fuss. Maybe have a party, but I sure don’t want a funeral.” “Dad said he didn’t want us to go to any trouble, so we are just going to do what he said.” “We just thought it would be easier, faster, and cheaper.”

Wolfelt said that efficiency should not be confused with effectiveness. He said, “We’ve gone from funerals to memorial services to celebrations to parties. In the process, we have lost the connection to grief and emotion.”

People are losing sight of the value of holding some kind of ritual service, a safe place to grieve and mourn. Very often, the people who don’t recognize a death with a funeral or memorial service are in a psychologist’s office six months later with problems related to unexpressed emotions.

We in the U.S. have become an increasingly “mourning-avoidant” culture, where people tend to want to avoid sadness. At a meaningful funeral, people laugh one moment and cry the next as they share stories that cause laughter as well as tears. This experience of “paradoxical emotions” results in what Wolfelt calls the “sweet spot of emotional experience.”

Traditional clergy doing cookie-cutter funerals with little relevance to the deceased or their family have also contributed to the decline of funerals. Wolfelt and Doug Manning, founder of the In-Sight Institute (which certifies nondenominational “Funeral Celebrants”), both noted the declining number of Americans who attend church and the growing number of interfaith families.

The 2010 American Religious Identification Survey estimated that approximately 15% of the American population do not attend religious services or consider themselves church affiliated. If you grouped all the identified “nones” into a state, it would be the second largest state in the union, right behind California and before Texas.

In our highly mobile society with fewer ties to church or a specific religion, there is a growing corps of Funeral Celebrants who can offer families a personalized and individualized funeral or memorial service experience.

A Funeral Celebrant is trained in the specific area of conducting funerals and memorial services for families who are not affiliated with a religion or theology. Celebrants can assist a family with no clergyperson, as well as those uncomfortable with traditional religious funerals, on whom to call when there’s a death.

The use of Certified Celebrants originated in New Zealand and Australia, where 80% of the population chooses cremation and many people do not attend a church. Civil Celebrants, who are licensed by the government, perform over 50% of the funerals and weddings in those countries.

Doug Manning brought the idea of Certified Funeral Celebrants to North America in 1999 when he founded the In-Sight Institute. In-Sight has certified more than 1,600 Celebrants across the U.S. and internationally.

Another 36 Certified Celebrants graduated at the end of this ICCFA University. I’m proud to be one of them.