Getting Your Vicars In A Twist


This week a vicar has been complaining about people secular funeral services. He’s particularly annoyed at people playing their favourite song at their funeral, as it leaves him quote ‘feeling like a lemon’. Ed Tomlinson of St Barnabas in Kent wrote his thoughts on his personal blog when wondering what role the church plays in modern funerals, complaining that secular-styled services leave him feeling ‘spiritually unwanted’.┬áHe said:

“The best our secularist friends can hope for is a poem from Nan combined with a saccharine message from a pop star before being popped in the oven with no hope of resurrection. In the last few years, it has become painfully obvious that many families I have conducted funerals for have no desire for any Christian content.

I am saddened to discover yet another arena of life in which the church is moved from the centre to the margins. I am equally troubled that pastoral care is being left in the hands of those whose main aim is to make money”

Other gems from the pissed-off pastor include:

‘Whenever I consider humanist funerals (or hotel weddings come to that), I am reminded of those words from scripture “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.’

As well as the truly stunning:

“I am further concerned that an opportunity for evangelism is slipping through our fingers”

Just to put these statements into some kind of context, let’s really think about this – this vicar is annoyed that at a time when a family have lost a loved one and are grief-stricken, he doesn’t feel wanted enough. He’s peeved that while people are at their lowest and really hurting, they’re not also making an effort to make him feel worthwhile. And then to cap it all off he’s pissed off that he can’t use the funeral, the death of a human being, to try and push his own religion onto people. This really annoyed me when I saw it, because one of the big criticisms that get levelled at atheists is that they have nothing to offer them comfort in the death of a loved one – well here’s what the church offer: a vicar who’s pissed off if you choose to play your dad’s favourite song or recite your grandma’s favourite poem rather than sing a centuries-old song in praise of a god.

Unsurprisingly, Ed has attempted to explain his comments somewhat, saying in a recent blog entry:

‘A requiem mass and the Christian prayers of “commendation and committal” are not mere aesthetic choices in a market place of funeral options. Rather something real and significant is happening, on Earth and in Heaven, when these take place.’

And he’s right… for Christians. For humanists, atheists, secularists and general non-believers, the religious trappings of the funeral service are little more than tradition and something to placate the elderly relatives. The mass and prayers are only real and significant to those who believe in them – which is fine, for the funeral service of a believer. But the vicar has no right to expect the same reverence for tradition and religion at a more secular funeral.

The Church of England have offered a characteristically wishy-washy opinion on the affair, with a spokesman saying:

‘Funerals are part of the duties of a priest and an opportunity for pastoral care and ministry. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion regarding the content of a funeral.’

So, essentially, they’re saying everyone can have their own views, and if a vicar wants to express annoyance with how you choose to have your life celebrated when you’re gone, or to celebrate the life of one you loved, the he’s entitled to his opinion and is free to pass judgement over you if he pleases.

Understandably, Tomlinson has somewhat shunned media attention since his initial outburst, explaining on his blog that he’s lost faith in the media after having his trust shattered by the local paper, who chose to focus on his pissy comments rather than his good deeds:

“Why were the opening of the pre-school, my work with the primary school and plans to build a community centre totally overlooked?”

I can think why – because having a go at people who are vulnerable and hurting is wrong, no matter what your past deeds. And to complain about the media shattering his trust is rich from given his comments come a man entrusted with helping families through the difficult grieving process. In all, Tomlinson seems to me to comes across as impetuous and petty, and when it’s regarding a subject so sensitive and close to people’s hearts, his comments just leave me feeling saddened.

  1. #1 by AexMagd on October 26, 2009 - 15:27

    The funny thing is, the times I feel most annoyed at priests and sermonising is at funerals. I’ve been to a few now where the person being remembered was not particularly religious but all their friends and relatives have to sit and listen to a man who never knew him wax lyrical about how he’s in a better place, and about how important God was to him.

    I completely fail to understand how a humanist funeral – featuring music and readings that the deceased actually liked – can be something to look down on like that. Why would you even want a priest at your non-religious funeral anyway? Better to do both him and the deceased’s family a favour and bring in a humanist celebrant.

    I also don’t really think he wants to invite a debate about how pastoral care is being tainted by people’s desire to make money, or we’re going to get into a lovely discussion about tax exemption and indulgences.

  2. #2 by lovelyyoungman on October 26, 2009 - 18:23

    Why is he conducting these funerals? Or, more accurately, why are people choosing to have semi-christian funerals? Although his comments are tactless, insensitive and selfish to an extent I sympathise with how he’s feeling.

    I’ve had conversations with people in the past that have gone something like this:
    Me: “I’m an atheist”
    Them: “I’m a christian”
    Me; “Do you read the bible?”
    Them: “No”
    Me: “Go to church?”
    Them: “Every christmas AND I was christened”
    Me: “Grrr”

    I’m very surprised to find myself defending a Vicar but I think some of the fault in this situation has to lie with the people who want a nice church and vicar as window dressing for their funeral but don’t actually believe in what he has to say. Imagine if I approached a mosque and said “Love the minaret and your funny little hat, I’d love to have my relative’s funeral here. Oh but none of that Muslim rubbish please, I’ll have Bryan Adams instead.” I think the Immam would have a right to be annoyed.

    Having said all that, his comments around non-secular weddings are breathtaking has he no concept that there are people who don’t believe in a Christian god? “Forgive them, for they know no what they do” has never been used in a more patronising context.

  3. #3 by bob dezon on October 26, 2009 - 19:32

    The man is just feeling a bit superflous and marginalised. Might be time to get a “real” job?

  4. #4 by Michael on October 26, 2009 - 20:52

    I am going to EXPLODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so ANGRY with this jumping badgery f&^%wit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where is my F&^%ing crossbow? NOW!!!!!!!

  5. #5 by IBASIS on September 4, 2013 - 22:54

    If you don’t want a Christian funeral why not simply go to the Crematorium, where you don’t have to be annoyed by a vicar holding a Chrsitain funeral and preaching a sermon. Really quite simple even for a bear with little brain. Get a life.

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