Today I had a funeral; the deceased (please say a prayer for her) was not practising for many years, nor were her relatives and friends, so the service was in the Crematorium. That was a feature on its own, because the minister who preceded me exceeded his allotted time unapologetically and truncated what I could offer to the deceased lady and her loved ones.
However, some things occurred which interested me. The first was a comment from an undertaker who had had to deal with the preceding service. He is a nice guy, and we chatted about the services at which he assisted. He remarked that he had no time for clergy who stuck their noses into a book and simply read things out; 'I would like to think that my loved ones wouldn't simply have rehashed material' he said; 'I would like to think that this was the first and last time that something had been heard'. I pointed out that I was actually required to perform the rites of the Church, but he wasn't impressed. No good; I don't think we'll be doing his funeral.
Our conversation (it was quite protracted, because the service beforehand was seriously overrunning) then went on to secularist/humanist services. We talked about the fact that secularist service officiants could simply set themselves up as officiants without any training or expertise. He commented that there was a lady locally who set herself up as something of the sort, and also offered training for 'secular' officiants; she charges £600 for the course and is coining it, apparently. The undertaker told me that he would never employ this lady himself for any sort of a funeral; apparently her 'services' are dire beyond belief (no pun intended).
Another common feature these days is clergy who have obtained ordination from some source or another and set themselves up as funeral officiants. Their ordination comes from 'Old Catholic' sources, or 'Liberal Catholic' sources, none in communion with the Catholic Church or indeed with the Church of England or any other mainstream Christian Communion. But these 'clergy' make a nice living at funerals, and are a serious threat to the Church of England clergy. These days the Church Commissioners of the Church of England decree a fee of £160 plus for a funeral: in the past I and most priests have simply said to undertakers who are perplexed by our reluctance to charge a specific fee for a service, 'give us what the Church of England specify'. But £160 seems excessive to most of us, and we generally, in high embarrassment, suggest to the undertakers some lower figure. But not these 'vagi' (vagus=wandering, unattached, cleric) who, having obtained some sort of ordination from once source or another, make a rare old living locally, and no doubt elsewhere in the country. These people are less of a threat to us, though it is not unknown for them to contact the undertaker firms introducing themselves as 'Catholic priests'; we had a case locally, where the Dean had to intervene. Pressed, these vagi will confirm that they are 'independent Catholic priests', but to an undertaker who is having difficulty finding a priest or deacon for a family who won't notice the difference…… And there are lots of these guys around, it seems.
This vagus situation bites particularly hard for the Anglicans who, when in active ministry, are required to hand over all stipends to the Church Commissioners in exchange for their salary. Anyone else (including us Catholics) can simply trouser the fee*. So to see these vagi, ordained by strange wandering bishops, hoovering up their parishioners for a fat fee, when they themselves would have received nothing for the service adds to the sense of annoyance. And it would seem that the word is getting around that this is a lucrative market. And, presumably, as the number of services reaching Anglican clergy declines, the Church Commissioners will be required to put the fees up again simply to try and break even.
The undertaker I was speaking to today commented 'there aren't enough funerals to go around for all the clergy these days!'
*—in our case because we are not salaried at all; our income comes from such sources as these.