A special place in the ground

Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today's longtime religion reporter, had an interesting story recently about the growing number of Americans who are opting out of clergy-led funeral services. It's not clear what kind of growth in the secular death business we're talking about -- it appears cold, hard numbers aren't available -- but Grossman writes that times have really changed:

"What we've found in the past decade is that when you ask people whether they want a minister, people say, 'Not interested,' " says William McQueen, president of his family's longtime business.

"Today, of all the ceremonies we deal with, I'd say 50% are religious or clergy-led, 20% celebrant-led and 30% are having no ceremony or one led by family," says McQueen, who becomes president of the Cremation Association of North America at the group's annual meeting this week in Denver.

Religious funerals were the only available option 25 years ago, "even if nobody showed up," McQueen says.

John Reed Sr., president of the National Funeral Directors Association, says 50% of Americans today say they don't belong to a church and don't see value in a religious funeral. But "they still want ceremony and celebration at the end of life."

More than one in four U.S. adults (27%) say that when they die, they don't expect to have a religious service, according to a national survey of 6,000 people.

That last stat was interpreted by the co-author of the survey as meaning that a quarter of Americans don't expect to meet God on the other side. That's an interesting inference considering that even the most liberal survey findings have shown only about 15 percent of Americans have "no religion." Of course, not every person who is religious believes in God, but it's odd that someone who associated their lives with religious tradition would do away with it upon death. Typically, we think of the end of life as a time of heightened spiritual awareness.

Grossman's article, supplemented by a post at her Faith & Reason blog, has generated a lot of comments (351 at present). And Grossman should be commended for picking up a story that I haven't seen anywhere else.

But I couldn't help but feel something was missing. It had to be the limited commentary about what individuals opting out of clergy-led funerals think happens when they die.

Carmen Kistner says she and her husband had no ill feelings about church life: "We just wanted something different, something that was truly about him and his life."

Now, you're probably expecting me to kvetch about how Grossman should have asked someone who had a secular celebration if they regretted forgoing the ordained escort. That's ridiculous. She should have asked three.

The above trailer includes a few clips, though not the best, from Donny's seaside funeral. (Walter mentions God, but this is not a religious service.)

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