Priests' graveside revival to attract the bereaved

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The Independent Online
DO-IT-YOURSELF funerals, green burials and "pay now, die later" schemes mean that the church no longer gets a look-in when people die. Now parish priests are planning a graveside comeback, with a scheme to improve the quality of service available to the bereaved. This may mean paying just as much attention to the party afterwards as to the rites.

The Anglican Church is considering setting up a Samaritan-style 0800 hotline in which grieving families can contact their local vicar. They are also considering recycling graveyards so that everyone has a chance of burying their dead close to home.

Funerals are a lucrative business, worth some pounds 600m. The business of death has become increasingly commercial, with family-owned firms bought up by large organisations.

Parish priests fear that unless they become organised, they will be bypassed.

Tom Sutcliffe, a lay member of the Southwark Diocese, moved a motion at General Synod yesterday calling for greater co-operation between clergy and funeral directors. "How often can one get a priest at the end of a phone, rather than a taped message?" he asked. "And how many people who have just suffered a profound loss want to confide such an intense personal thing to a recording machine?"

Christopher Smith, the general secretary of London dioceses, suggested setting up "Church of England Funerals Ltd". He said "We have a captive market. I don't think we could go quite as far as guaranteeing the ultimate destination of the deceased, as the Advertising Standards Authority would obviously get us."