Saturday, 13 June 2009

Commendation and Commital BEFORE Cremation?

Since there appear to have been few visitors to my blog since I wrote about my cousin's Thanksgiiving Service, I am trying again to see if I can get a response to my one area of concern, and I am therefore repeating the particular paragraph today.

"I found it strange that the commendation and committal took place during the church service, before the final hymn ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ and that the coffin then went off to the crematorium in Harrogate without any family and not even the Minister! I was told that this was the usual practice in Ripon because of the distance between Ripon and the crematorium, but what happens when the deceased has no church connection and the family would not be happy with a church service like the one we had? Surely, they must go to the crematorium?"

Can any Ministers in rural areas tell me of the normal practice where their church is several miles away from the crematorium and whether the practice I describe is normal in their area, please? If Jackie had been a much closer relative, this could have been most distressing for us all. As it was, it just seemed a rather undignified way of ending the service and our connection with our cousin.

Back home here, one friend suggested that this practice could be 'illegal' and another suggested that I write to the Methodist Recorder to express my feelings about this strange procedure, but I prefer to air the subject in the Methoblogosphere. Perhaps this IS normal procedure in rural areas and we are just fortunate here to be able to choose either to have the whole Service at the Crematorium or, as we did when my husband died, to have a short service at the crematorium followed by a Thanksgiving Service in our church.


DaveW said...

Never been asked to do it myself.

If requested then I would always suggest doing the committal first at the crem and then the service at the Church as you did for your husband and we did for both my parents and at least two of my grandparents (don't remember the others due to age).

If that were not acceptable then I would travel with the funeral director and take a service at the crem even if no family present.

I have seen this happen when visiting a rural crem during training. The independent funeral director we visited said it was quite common and some clergy would always come with him, if not he would read a service himself.

Mind you clergy around here are being asked to do far fewer non church member funerals.

Olive Morgan said...

Thanks, Dave. You have confirmed what I thought should happen. It seemed to be a question of time! The Minister, standing in for my cousin's (Superintendent)Minister who was visiting family in Australia, said that it would take an hour and a half to go to Harrogate for the cremation and back. She gave us no option, but did say that it took her some time to get used to it when she came new to the Circuit.

Rev Tony B said...

I have been in a number of circuits where the crem was some distance away - in North Northumberland, it was an hour each way to Blyth or Newcastle, or three hours to Edinburgh. I never sent a coffin away unescorted. In another appointment, I had a funeral with relatives travelling from some distance, who said they didn't want to travel to the crem (40 minutes or so each way, depending on tractors). They said they were happy for the coffin to go unescorted, but when I said I'd go with it they looked very relieved. The only time we did let it go was on an occasion when the committal had to take place the day before the actual cremation. We said our prayers, and stood in silent tribute as she went off down the lane, then went in for refreshments - and on that occasion, it worked.

The norm should that there will be a minister present at the committal at the crem. Even if the minister travels alone it is an expression of pastoral care for the deceased and for the family.

In the case you mention, I wonder who made the decision that 'ministers don't go 'cos it's too far'. I know about time pressure, but colleagues in London have no choice but to give up a lot of time when it's a West Indian funeral. Sometimes it's necessary to question local practices. They might be the right thing to do, but they might not.

Richard Hall said...

I'm very surprise by this, Olive. It's 13 miles from Ripon to the Crem (isn't google maps wonderful?!) and that doesn't seem unreasonable. It might not always be possible to have the same minister at each service I suppose, but that should be exceptional in my view. I'd not be happy to simply miss out a commital at the crematorium, unless (of course) the family specifically requested it. But that's never happened to me in 15 years of ministry.

Olive Morgan said...

Thank you very much, TonyB and Richard. It certainly caused consternation back home here in our Disciple 4 group, which contains a Minister (who said she had often ridden in the hearse to the Crematorium, without the family) and a Minister;s wife (who thought it was illegal). At first I thought it was because the Superintendent Minister (who was my cousin's Minister) was away in Australia, but other local people I spoke to told me that this was the usual practice in Ripon! I did not like it, but in every other way te Minister and the church folk were very kind and helpful.

With none of the deceased's relatives living in or near Ripon, the arrangements for the funeral were made by the solicitor (who attended the funeral with his father) and it was only at the last minute, when I discovered that no-one up there was printing orders of Service that I discovered this practce. I emailed the Minister for the missing details of the Order of Service, which turned out to includ
'Commendation and Committal' and then stayed up until 2am to print copies before catching a train at 7.40am! It was too late then to challenge the practice, TonyB, and it didn't occur to me that another Minister could speak the committal at the crematorium, Richard.

By email, before we all travelled North, the Minister gave us two options -

1) that the commendation and committal would be before the last hymn, then the Minister would leave the church with coffin and the family would remain in the church (which is what we did); or

2) that the service would end, then the Minister and coffin would leave with the family following and the commendation and committal would be outside at the church door.

Neither of these appealed to me at all. Jackie is at rest now and I will now try to put this out of my mind.

Rev Tony B said...

I do remember an occasion where a committal was needed for someone who'd had a church service "down south" and was being buried in Amble in Northumberland - it was unreasonable to expect a minister to travel so far north, so I was aked to do the committal at the graveside.

Perhaps you couldn't challenge local custom, Olive - fair enough. But the resident minister should - 13 miles is nothing.

Rev Tony B said...

Or even "asked to do a committal" The problems with typing and fingers just accumulate as the clock ticks on...

Olive Morgan said...

Thanks, TonyB. I suppose I should have picked it up earlier when I checked (by Internet) the obituary notice placed in the Yorkshire Post by the solicitor, but at that stage I'd never have thought of the coffin leaving for the crematorium unaccompanied. The obituary said 'Service and Commital at Allhallowgate Methodist Church. Cremation private.' Now that the Superintendent Minister is back home and has replied to my Thank you email, perhaps I could gently make a suggestion that this custom might be looked at again. The trouble is that I don't want to appear too critical, because in my Thank you email to him I made the suggestion that their church might like to consider altering the front of their church as we have recently done, making easier steps and a long gradient access for the disabled - which gave us a long railing on which we now display frequent banners about forthcoming events. (The banners have attracted new members, after frequent passing by in their cars.)
The steps in Ripon were VERY difficult for the coffin-bearers!

seethroughfaith said...

sorry for your pain Olive :(

I am not sure what custom and practice is here in Finland ... but many Finns are still buried and therefore the service usually takes place in the chapel in the churchyard

United Methodist Pastors themselves (and their spouses) are usually cremated and their ashes are buried in the crypt of the UMC church in Helsinki.

A few years ago the widow of a minister (who had died 25 years earlier) died at the age of 101. We had the service in our church - and then her remains went off in the hearse to the crem -but I have no idea did a minister travel with the body or whether a minister was at the crem to receive it .... but I am fairly sure that there would have been a short service at the church in Hki when the ashes were placed there.

Not sure if this helps at all.

Rachel said...

Hi Olive. My last station was in neighbouring Thirsk and Northallerton, where the nearest crem was Darlington, which was also 13 miles away. If the family went to the crem after a church service, we could easily be away for an hour and half, meaning that the family would return to the wake to find a host of people just on their way out, if they'd stayed at all. So I always suggested that we did things the other way round. But people do have their own traditions. One family with numerous elderly aunts had a tradition of doing just as you described. The whole service took place in church. Everyone would respectfully stand outside to watch the hearse depart. Then we went back inside for refreshments. I did ask what part they wanted me to play and it was definitely to stay with those who were mourning. I do think we ought not to overlook the "accompanying" role that the Funeral Director offers - I have found them generally to be excellent in terms of respect and pastoral care. So the final journey is not made alone.
Just another point to throw in - another time when I saw this happen was years ago at Leeds Methodist Mission in the city centre. The distance wasn't so far but the traffic was awful.

Knowing the ministry team at Ripon, I have no doubt that the pastoral care offered to your family would have been excellent, but it can often be harder for more distant relatives who have not been part of the consultation and preparation process for the day. Events may then take them more by surprise. You have my sympathies

Olive Morgan said...

Thank you, Rachel, for that helpful comment. I hasten to add that we couldn't have had more sympathetic treatment from the Ripon Minister who was standing in for her Superintendent. As you say, it came as a shock because I hadn't realised how fortunate we are here in Reading to have several crematoria not that far from each other - I suppose because of the greater population. I think also that I may have been a bit more sensitive about it because my cousin was, we think now, autistic and therefore somewhat lonely in life. It is perhaps worth mentioning that many funerals of people connected with our church are conducted entirely at the Chapel at the crematorium, with no church service. That would not satisfy everyone but might be an answer in places like Ripon, although it might limit the number of people who could attend the funeral. I guess I've been South too long and have forgotten what it is like to live in rural England!