Friday, 13 December 2013

Funerals

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.

6 comments:

Pelerin said...

I do find these vagi very worrying as I once read of one who visits hospitals and hospices as a 'catholic' priest. How is one to know if one finds oneself in hospital if he is genuine? In hospital in the past on two occasions it never occured to me to question the validity of visiting Priests - their twice weekly visits were most welcome and I had not heard about these vagi then.

However having now read about them I wonder what is the best way to verify a Priest who may be unknown to one without having to ask them straight out?

Anonymous said...

Why not ask straight out, as you put it? If they are proud of their affiliation they won't be offended in the least--rather complimented that you ask. If they aren't proud of their affiliation, then that's their problem and not yours, isn't it?

Pelerin said...

I have just returned to this to see if there are any answers to my query. Thanks to anon for his comment. I just thought it would be rude to ask straight out if the visiting cleric was a Catholic and anyway would not an 'old catholic' answer yes to this so I would be none the wiser?

Thinking about this since perhaps the politest way of finding out would be to ask which diocese or parish he was in always presuming one was compos mentis enough to ask. Of course if it was a 'she' I would know instantly!

Bishop Dominic said...

As one of the "wanderers" you express concern about, I often find myself called most often when the local Roman,or Orthodox clergy are unable, or unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to attend to the spiritual, emotional and occasionally sacramental needs of individuals or families in need, or in crisis.

I am always, as are most of my brethren, very upfront about my lack of a formal relationship with the official church body I am in essence "filling in" for. I give them by business card in case any issues arise in the future that need attention or answers.

Most clergy of our diocese carry an identification card, clearly stating which church we serve. As I said, most of us tend to err on the cautious side, and make sure the individual or family understand the situation. In most cases, I am given the go-ahead. In those situations where the person or family have strong beliefs that the priest be in communion with Rome or one of the (formerly) SCOBA Orthodox bodies, I do my best to assist them. In the case of Roman Catholics there is a local retired Eastern Rite Catholic priest that will almost always come when I call him. My experience with Latin Rite clergy has not been positive I am sad to say.

As for those Old Catholic, Independent, and Orthodox clergy that omit revealing the truth of their situation, or outright deceive the faithful, I have no tolerance for them. If they have a proven record of deception then hospitals need to be informed with name and picture. Period. HOWEVER, those who are honest about their situation and upfront about their differences, they should not be ostracized or tainted, nor have their validity called into question by the local Roman or Orthodox clergy.

Thank you for allowing me to respond.

Bishop Dominic said...

As one of the "wanderers" you express concern about, I often find myself called most often when the local Roman,or Orthodox clergy are unable, or unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to attend to the spiritual, emotional and occasionally sacramental needs of individuals or families in need, or in crisis.

I am always, as are most of my brethren, very upfront about my lack of a formal relationship with the official church body I am in essence "filling in" for. I give them by business card in case any issues arise in the future that need attention or answers.

Most clergy of our diocese carry an identification card, clearly stating which church we serve. As I said, most of us tend to err on the cautious side, and make sure the individual or family understand the situation. In most cases, I am given the go-ahead. In those situations where the person or family have strong beliefs that the priest be in communion with Rome or one of the (formerly) SCOBA Orthodox bodies, I do my best to assist them. In the case of Roman Catholics there is a local retired Eastern Rite Catholic priest that will almost always come when I call him. My experience with Latin Rite clergy has not been positive I am sad to say.

As for those Old Catholic, Independent, and Orthodox clergy that omit revealing the truth of their situation, or outright deceive the faithful, I have no tolerance for them. If they have a proven record of deception then hospitals need to be informed with name and picture. Period. HOWEVER, those who are honest about their situation and upfront about their differences, they should not be ostracized or tainted, nor have their validity called into question by the local Roman or Orthodox clergy.

Thank you for allowing me to respond.

Pastor in Valle said...

Bishop Dominic; please forgive my late approval of your comment. Usually comments are indicated by email to me, and I can approve or reject them immediately. For some reason yours were not. As soon as I saw them, however, I included them as I would have done if I had saw them immediately.

That doesn't imply agreement, of course, but I am grateful for your input.