For bereaved gay couples, or for a family seeking a funeral which will acknowledge unreservedly which relationships were important to their loved one, the search at short notice for a sympathetic celebrant or minister may be an additional distress. In practice, the funeral will almost certainly be conducted sensitively and honestly, whoever is leading it, but if you wish to know for certain that your celebrant or minister will give true recognition of what your loved one meant to you, you should check in advance how the tribute will be worded.
Here are some links that may be helpful:
- Pink Partings – not specifically a gay-friendly company, despite its name and the website layout and wording. The site is hosted by Cooperative Funerals, who offer an excellent service to all, and their Pink Partings site might be seen as being indicative of their open and inclusive approach.
- Gay to Z listings for Funeral Directors, including contact details for Cooperative Funeralcare across the UK, and Funeral Celebrants.
- Chelsea Funeral Directors (London)
- Interfaith Gay Ceremonies gives details of ministers who specialise in gay funerals.
- Changing Attitude’s guide to open and welcoming congregations across the UK.
- LGBT Bereavement Helpline 0207 837 3337
Open Tuesdays between 7.30pm and 9.30pm
London Friend’s dedicated helpline offers support and practical information to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered callers who have been bereaved or are preparing for bereavement. Trained volunteers also welcome calls from affected family, friends, colleagues and carers.
- Our Funeral Celebrants in Cheshire will help you create a sincere and meaningful ceremony that truly reflects your wishes. This will be essentially non-religious, but can incorporate a hymn or simple prayer if you wish.
- For a Humanist (entirely non-religious) funeral in Manchester, contact Helen Smith.
- Find a Funeral Celebrant near you. Ask for more information.
- Funeral photography is becoming more popular in the UK, and provides a lasting memory of the day, and a chance to share it with those who cannot attend.
- Blind alleys – googling “Pink Funerals” or “Gay Funerals” will bring up these: Pinks Funeral Directors (A & D Pinks, Surrey) and Peter Gay (Gravesend) & Stephen Gay (Longfield, Kent), all of whom may well offer an excellent service but they are not specifically gay-friendly.
The following paragraphs offer some thoughts on funerals for gay Christians.
(acknowledgements to My Last Song for this article)
Where can the Christian, who happens to be gay, find the spiritual support he or she needs? Who will be there to provide the necessary context in which appropriate rites of the end of life can be achieved? If the gay Christian would like to be buried in the church burial ground, how careful does he or she have to be when deciding on the wording on the headstone?
Changing Attitude is an organisation of ordained and lay Christians within the Anglican communion whose vision is to see gay Christians completely accepted and their partnerships seen and blessed as valid, both in the priesthood and in the congregation. A register is held in which those congregations throughout the UK who are open and welcoming to all gay or transgendered persons can record their intention.
There are 29 congregations on the register at this time. There are approximately 16,000 congregations in England alone. This means that in the vast majority of churches a gay person, whether a committed Christian or not, cannot be certain of a welcome. When we are grieving and especially when we wish to arrange a Christian funeral service, this can be an added distress.
Even those of us who have been members of our local church for some time and are known as ’a couple’, who feel ourselves to be loved and know that we are prayed for and cared about, cannot usually be as open in sharing our life issues as our straight brothers and sisters. We often have to be very careful what we say and to whom.
Hardly anyone asks us where we met, when we had our Civil Partnership, or indeed anything which might encourage us to share much information! Most of the time this is bearable. We accept this in order to worship with our local family in Christ. But how difficult is this when we are dying or we have lost our life partner.
Most committed Christians want a church funeral, memorial service or thanksgiving. There are of course many priests, curates and lay readers who are sympathetic and would take a service with wholehearted compassion. But who wants to search a list of 16,000 churches if one’s own is not amongst them?
There are many more who accept gay couples into the congregation, knowing they have little choice as we insist God has invited us. But can they speak those hugely important words at our final departure with integrity? If not, we will know it.
It is important to think these issues through in advance if possible. Ideally we will have been able to have an honest, open discussion with our priest, but frequently even seemingly understanding incumbents actually have rather sore bottoms from sitting on the fence. Those who do not understand us are less than ideal for singing out the truth at the recital of our last song!
Our Christian brothers and sisters, with whom we worship, will want to attend our funeral. We have to be sensitive to the possibility that many of them have been selective in how much information about our relationship they have taken on board. If possible, we need to have planned what we want said about us, or our partner and chosen someone wholeheartedly on our wave length to say it. Close friends and family members can often deliver tributes and eulogies brilliantly.
Taking control of how we want the funeral or thanksgiving to be, choosing readings, music and tributes will greatly increase the likelihood of it being a ’good’ experience.
What can be put on the gravestone?
In regards to a church burial, how acceptable is it for the term ’Civil Partner’ to be recorded on a headstone in the burial ground of the Anglican Church? Changing Attitude gave this reply:
“There should be no problem, though all gravestone wording has to be agreed by the incumbent. If the incumbent objects, a faculty can be applied for, a faculty being a license from the diocesan consistory court in order to change something in a church or graveyard.”
It should not come to that. Guidelines usually agree that a stone can have the name of the deceased, dates of birth and death and relationship to others in the grave. A simple inscription is also allowed.
(From an article in My Last Song)
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