Why we can’t take funerals in church during the pandemic (as much as we would love to) – a response to the letter from the 36 MPs in The Times

funeral candleYou may have seen that 36 MPs have written to The Times asking for funerals to be allowed in churches again (with 10 people & social distancing). I thought I would share with you some things you might not know about Church of England funerals at the moment:

  • we are offering as much pastoral support as we can to grieving families (as we always do)
  • we are offering memorial services for when we can return to church – in some cases I think a memorial in a year’s time may help more with the traumatised than a stripped back ceremony in church held now
  • we are not charging for funerals (at least in Derby Diocese but I think in many others)
  • we can do a short ceremony at a graveside or at the crematorium with very small numbers in attendance (this does vary a bit from area to area)
  • many crematoria are live-streaming the services (something that would be very difficult to arrange from church)
  • having a service in church and then going to the crematorium or cemetery adds to the cost of a funeral considerably – with only small numbers allowed, being in church wouldn’t be very different from being at the crematorium or graveside (*this sentence has been edited from the original for clarity – see below)
  • many clergy and lay ministers are self isolating because they are vulnerable or even have covid 19 so funerals are being centralised in many places (ie. we’re covering each other’s parishes)
  • you can have more flexibility around music at the crematorium (they have a big database of tracks including hymns)
  • most of our organists and vergers (people who open up, hand out books etc.) are over 70 and self-isolating
  • it would be very difficult to deep clean the church after each service (and possibly costly)
  • if we allowed church services again it would be up to the vicar to police numbers. Before the lockdown I had a friend who had 150 barge into church despite the family having said there would only be a few in attendance to social distance – this put her and others at risk
  • in my case, I have had no families complain they can’t be in church, they all understand the circumstances – some very acutely having lost loved ones to Covid 19

I think priests and lay ministers more than most are feeling awful that we can’t offer the full service we usually do, it is one of the most important parts of our ministry and I am grieving that loss.

If you are grieving, you might find the prayers and suggestions here helpful while we are still in lockdown: http://bcjj.org.uk/2020/03/30/funerals-during-the-pandemic/

*  Below is my original sentence, edited above after this tweet misinterpreting me from one of the signatories to the letter:

having a service in church and then going to the crematorium or cemetery adds to the cost of a funeral considerably – with only small numbers allowed, being in church wouldn’t add a great deal to the experience


  1. Thank you Bryony for putting into words many of my thoughts and reflections – We have to accept that the safest thing to do is to not be in church for all of the above reasons – families understand – they are grieving and this ongoing discussion is not helping.

    Our priority, as always, is to support the families in the long term – not just on the day of the funeral and this has been widely accepted by the families we are meeting now and in the past.


    • I think the MP wants to be a big man and have his name up in lights, without looking into the practicalities of having a funeral during lockdown – what Bryony says makes a lot of sense.


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