The Good Funeral Awards

The Anglicans – Maybe The Best Funeral Hosts In The World

18 June, 2013

Three weeks ago my stepfather collapsed and died suddenly at Manchester airport. He was returning from a visit to Bournemouth from the Isle of Man.

My mother had to return to the Isle of Man and make plans to recover the body and organise the funeral. They had been married for 18 months, which meant our two families had barely had a chance to get to  know each other.

iomMy stepfather had been raised in Peel, a small city on the west coast of the Isle of Man. He had been to school, got married, worked at the golf club, run a pub for a few years, been town clerk and on his death, he had been working in an office in the tiny ‘city’, which has its own cathedral.

So he was a public figure in a close-knit island community.

My mother was also born in the Isle of Man. She was brought up in the Church of England. As an adult, it wasn’t her church of choice, but in her later years she had worked an organist in the Church of England. She had played at many funerals, so she was familiar with the different styles.

My mother took responsibility for organising the funeral, and she was determined to use her knowledge.

Although my stepfather was not religious, she lined up four ministers of religion for the service. One to give the tribute – a man who knew Alan – another to host the ceremony, a representative of the Methodist church to make an address, (the religion he was born into) and a retired clergyman to give the commendation.

My mother wanted Bach, she also chose the Manx Fishermen’s Evening Hymn, Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah, and How Great Thou Art.

‘I want it to be as good as Mrs Thatcher’s’ she said in her bold way.

The organisation did cause division. The cremation was not organised after the service, but a week later, which some family members thought was inappropriate. My mother’s vision meant that the date revolved around the availability of the clergy and musicians and not necessarily for the convenience of all the family. There were other differences of opinion, but my mother chose to be decisive, rather than popular.

It was the first funeral I had attended for many years.

The coffin brought with pall bearers. I can’t remember having seen this done before, but it was very moving.

My mum had a soloist sing Ellan Vannin, the unofficial Manx national anthem.

I too was brought up in the Church of England, so to sing familiar hymns was a comforting thing to do. The tribute told me several things I didn’t know about the life story of Alan. There was a short sermon from a Methodist reverend.

Was it an appropriate service for a man who didn’t go to church?

The service was ‘high brow’ but that’s a paradox of British public life. We have access to the rituals, even though the culture that sustained them is disappearing.

Alan was a familiar figure in Peel. His death was a shock. Most people are not familiar with Anglican way of doing things, but the old rituals work beautifully.

There were about 300 people in the congregation. That meant it wasn’t a private funeral, but a public one. It was very dignified and impressive.

The Isle of Man has a distinctive community identity which is rare these days.

How many people in the C21st will have lives so deeply rooted in one place? How many of us will attract 300 people to our funeral? And how long will the Anglican church be able to maintain the quality of the rituals, when so few people are brought up to become familiar with them?