Funeral officiants replacing clergy at more P.E.I. funerals

·3 min read
Funeral officiants can help grieving families create a unique and meaningful service, with or without religious elements. (JGA/Shutterstock - image credit)
Funeral officiants can help grieving families create a unique and meaningful service, with or without religious elements. (JGA/Shutterstock - image credit)

There is a growing demand on Prince Edward Island for funeral celebrants: people who officiate at funerals and at graveside services who are not members of the clergy.

Just as many people are now choosing to be married by a marriage commissioner who is not necessarily aligned with a religion, families are also now seeking a similar secular service to mark a passing.

"We're starting to see a shift in who's officiating services," says Jodi Swan, a funeral director at the MacLean Funeral Home/Swan Chapel in Charlottetown, and a certified funeral celebrant.

She said while many families still choose a clergy member from a faith with which they identify, she has seen an increase in families asking for a funeral celebrant instead.

"It's becoming more popular."

She said families without strong religious ties, or who have had their priest, minister or rabbi retire, are relieved to have someone who can help them create a meaningful funeral service.

Poems in lieu of scripture

There are certified training courses available for people who want to do this work, although there is no need for formal certification, Swan said.

A couple of years ago, she trained with Canadian-based company Life Celebrants International, which she said teaches people how to craft a meaningful funeral celebration with a grieving family. She believes she was the first such certified celebrant at a Charlottetown funeral home.

Submitted by Jodi Swan
Submitted by Jodi Swan

More people are looking for ceremonies without scripture readings or hymns, and are opting for poems or prose and more popular music, she said.

Some families who have members of different religious faiths also see celebrants as a great option, and celebrants can also incorporate religious elements into a service if the family wishes.

Baby boomers as trailblazers?

Funeral celebrants can do both funeral home and graveside services, Swan said. The cost is similar to what one would pay for a clergy member to officiate.

"The celebrant can do just about anything the family would like in terms of any kind of ritual they have envisioned for a service," Swan said, from writing and delivering a eulogy to co-ordinating music.

"We can take things and weave in personal history and stories and collections and anything that was meaningful to the individual."

For instance, if a person had a collection of stuffed toys, some of those could be displayed.

She said as the baby boomer generation ages and dies, families are looking for more personalized, meaningful funeral services: "They've always been kind of the trailblazers in terms of what takes place, and I think they definitely want something that speaks to who they are as an individual."

'Times have changed'

The Davison funeral home in Kensington is also seeing a trend toward more people looking for funeral celebrants.

It has a trained celebrant on staff and said most funeral homes have people they can call upon to handle a secular service.

"Times have changed for sure," said John MacIsaac, manager at Davison's. He believes the next generation will see even more changes to the funeral industry. "It is growing."

Swan said she thinks it would be beneficial for families to have access to a list of celebrants available across P.E.I.