In modern times, cremation as a means to dispose of our bodies has become increasingly common, representing over 77% of all deaths. Following a survey reflecting the views of people from a range of different cultures, faiths and beliefs, the snappily named Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has announced a package of measures to update crematoria to ensure they are a space that is welcoming to all.
Key issues raised in the survey included;
- The ability of some facilities to accommodate large groups
- Problems with car parking
- Lack of flexibility in the design of chapels (e.g. fixed seating or catafalque)
- Lack of facilities for specific rituals such as for washing
- ‘Slot times’ being too short, difficulties with booking slots and higher prices for ceremonies deemed ‘out of hours’ (e.g. at the weekend)
- Insensitive ‘iconography’ or other services such as prayer books or music
- Lack of awareness from some crematoria staff and funeral directors of the needs of different faith and belief groups.
In terms of my own observations, I should begin by saying that my experience of the crematorium staff that I come across day-to-day is generally really good. I have witnessed some great examples of more unusual requests being met and a genuine desire to meet the needs and wishes of families. By the same token I recognise many of the concerns highlighted. For instance;
- the default position is to have hymn books, crosses and other Christian symbols on display. Families have to request to have these removed. I even heard recently of a crematorium refusing to remove the hymn books.
- Even when such symbols are removed there are sometimes tell-tale signs left behind, such as the outline of a cross remaining where the paint has faded around it.
- Some crematoria have just 30 mins for each ‘slot’. For some ceremonies this is fine and there is always the option to book a ‘double slot’ (although that has cost implications of course) but for large attendances or where there are several speakers, it becomes very challenging if not impossible to get everyone in and out and leave enough time for the chapel to be prepared for the next service
- When slots are short, it does not take much to put out the schedule for the rest of the day. For example just yesterday I led a service that was 25mins late going in. I really felt for the family.
Clearly some of these issues require changes at a strategic and policy level, including some investment to bring existing facilities up to standard. There are however some changes that could be made to practice quite quickly with little or no cost. For example, moving away from the current default position of crematoria chapels being ‘Christian’ spaces should be relatively simple to achive. At best this would require ‘opting in’ rather than ‘opting out’ to say have a cross on the wall but even just ensuring that when removed there is no trace would be a start.
It will be interesting to see how these matters are addressed and I look forward to seeing our crematoria genuinely becoming a space welcoming to all.