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Archbishop of Canterbury ‘shocked’ at death being seen as ‘expensive, time-consuming and irrelevant’

by Premier Journalist

The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his dismay at new figures revealing that approximately half of Britons do not desire a funeral upon their death.

“People around us are increasingly sheltered from the physical reality of death, they know less and less about how they will die and how to cope with loss,” he said.

“It is shocking to discover that death may be seen as expensive, time-consuming and irrelevant.”

The report, conducted by the faith think tank Theos, indicates that financial pressures and a decline in religious belief contribute to a growing number of Britons opting out of funeral rites.

In a survey involving over 2,500 respondents, participants were asked about their preferences regarding posthumous funeral services or ceremonies. While 47 per cent expressed a desire for such an event, more than half either indicated a lack of interest or uncertainty. Specifically, 24 per cent definitively stated "no," and 28 per cent conveyed that they were unsure.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, who wrote a foreword to the report, shared his own experience with the death of his mother, Lady Williams of Elvel, in July.

He emphasised how the Christian faith “has always been a source of hope, and the church community a place of comfort to the bereaved in both practical and pastoral ways”.

Speaking to Premier, the report's author, Dr Madeleine Pennington, noted that financial pressures were mentioned by some respondents, but the decline was more closely associated with a reduction in religious affiliation.

She said: “There was this sort of intersection between, yes, money is a factor. But actually, people aren't necessarily saying they can't afford it. They're saying that they would rather spend the money on something else, and actually, religious and spiritual reasons, then are sort of behind those feelings that funerals aren't really that important.”

Dr Pennington further stated that people are increasingly leaning towards Direct Cremation, particularly accentuated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s notably much cheaper than having a funeral. So, your remains will be cremated, and then the family can pick up the ashes at a later date. Therefore, there are no direct mourners. There's no ceremony. So we think that's probably a large part of what's going on here. And particularly, if you watch daytime TV, then there are lots of adverts for Direct Cremation. And there's been a big sort of push, there's lots of money in Direct Cremation. Whereas obviously, the church isn't quite advertising its traditional funerals in the same way.”

In contrast, the report found that 76 per cent of people who attend a place of worship at least once a month want a funeral compared with 38 per cent who never attend.

Archbishop Justin concluded: “The Church has honed compassionate skills in walking with people at the end of their lives and cares for those who mourn. Now we must re-open conversations, name Death, and think about how this compassionate caring can be re-shaped for this new world. Our love in Christ for those in grief is surely more urgent than ever.”


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