Holding a funeral planning day in a church

A booklet with 'Funeral Planning Day' and picture of flowers on the cover

Three minute read

Our new neighbour, Rev Jonathan Hayes, vicar of Christ Church in East Sheen, tells us why his church recently hosted a funeral and end of life planning day and how his parish seeks to support those facing grief and loss.

My job is so broad. It's a wonderful job to do. I mean it. Churches are more than what they do inside the walls. Most of my job is about going out. I do a lot of visits. It may be preparing for a baptism, thanksgiving for a birth or for a confirmation — where someone affirms those baptism promises for themselves; hospital or home visits for people who are sick; funerals and end of life care too.

As a vicar, you are always listening and searching out — what does the community need? How can we facilitate that? Sometimes that's about empowering people to do things themselves.

The concept of the high street has changed hugely, but it still exists. For ease, we have everything online, but that's not really how we function as people. The community doesn't go away. We're all in communities. And the most natural place to have a community is on the high street.

As a Church of England parish church, we are called to be with and to serve everyone who lives in the geographical area of the parish, of all faiths and none. This parish includes huge houses, like the top of the Richmond Park, and areas of social housing. We work with local schools, the Royal Ballet School is in the parish, and we take in most of Richmond Park itself. So, my flock includes a deer herd, you might say.

Rev Jonathan Hayes of Christ Church, East Sheen, speaking in church at funeral planning day

Part of the role of a priest is to prepare people for death. The only certainty of life is that we will one day die. In the midst of life, we are in death, as the prayer book says. End of life ministry isn't just about the funeral service — just like marriage isn't just about the wedding service.

In church, every week and every day we pray for the sick and the departed. These people are known to us, they are an important as part of our life.

We held a funeral planning day at Christ Church eight years ago which was very well-received. We have been finding recently that people in the parish want to talk about end of life planning. So, we started thinking — what are the things that we might want to talk about and how can we talk about them? Death is still a taboo subject, and some people will struggle with it.

Over 40 people came to this year’s funeral planning day and many more were interested. We invited local funeral directors, including Poppy’s; Natasha from Mortlake Crematorium; a local law firm to discuss wills and powers of attorney; and our own director of music spoke. We provided lunch and a booklet explaining options for a Church of England funeral, and we decorated the church with flowers.

Table laid for lunch with tablecloths and flowers at Christ Church, East Sheen, at funeral planning day

Everybody lives in a parish, so everybody is entitled to a Church of England funeral. They're also entitled to refuse it, of course. Bible readings, hymns and music are often valued because they are traditional. If you are not sure whether or not you can include something, just talk to your vicar.

The funeral is, in a sense, limited. After someone dies, the timescale for practical arrangements can be tight. There isn't often the space to think broadly at that time, so I think talking and thinking more about what we might like around our deaths can help people to be more prepared. But obviously when death comes, we're dealing with a huge range of emotions. That’s when walking with, and being present with someone, is most important.

When holding a funeral, I try to get a sense of a person who's died and hold that for the family and friends. I'll commend that person to God's loving purposes and care, and commit them to be buried or cremated. When I stand in a church or a crematorium and lay my hand gently on a coffin and say those words, there's something transformative for everybody, I think. It's something greater than us, a moment of holiness. We can write and talk at great lengths about it, but we will never fully understand it.

Find out more about planning your own funeral or book a free consultation with one of Poppy's team to record your funeral wishes.

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