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Churches should improve communication around death and the afterlife, report finds

by Kelly Valencia

Churches in the UK should improve communication around death and the theological case for the afterlife and dying, a new report by think tank Theos has found.

Co-authored by Dr Marianne Rozario and Lia Shimada, the Ashes to Ashes report found that the role of religion in practices around death and dying in the UK is in decline.

While many people value chaplains in their pastoral support of the dying, there's a rise in the use of secular end-of-life doulas, it also found.

"All those kinds of traditional ways in which we've marked death in the past are out. And all these new kinds of ways, secular celebrations of life, end of life doula, death café are in," Marianne Rozario told Premier Christian News.

"We've definitely seen, and the report highlights this, a decline in religious funerals, also a decline in religious professionals in funeral arrangements and an increase in celebrations of life."

The report also found that although the coronavirus pandemic raised the profile of death in public conversation, this didn't necessarily translate into people being "more prepared" for death.

"That's the area where there's a real opportunity for churches and faith communities to really speak into, preparing people for them for their own death.

"We asked the question to our interviewees of 'What makes a good death?' and the four kind of themes that came up were: no pain or suffering, being surrounded by their family and at home, finding peace and reconciliation at the end of their lives. But also importantly for a lot of them was being prepared.

"Now that is also practically, having written a will, having their finances in order…but also spiritually."

According to the report, churches have a unique opportunity to return the religious element to funeral ceremonies.

Dr Rozario continued: "Death has such nuanced emotional complexities to it and whilst the trends are changing, churches and faith communities have a real opportunity to reclaim their role in this sphere to reweave the relationship between religion and death, and that they offer pastoral care and theological commitment to both the dying and to the bereaved."

You can read the full report here.

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