The Value of Celebrant Services for Every Funeral Home

I found the following piece written by Alexandra Jo! Alexandra is a certified Celebrant and the Content Manager at Parting Stone where she creates forward-thinking content for funeral professionals. I wanted to share this for others to read as it gives a great perspective from a funeral celebrant point of view, please also understand that this is a perspective from the US market as are the figures etc. but i feel it isn’t to far from the UK way of thinking, but that’s for you to make your own mind up and come to your own conclusions.

I am a first generation funeral professional who has been in death care for three years, but I have been advocating for a revolution in funeral services for much longer than that. As a non-religious 18 year old who found herself planning a funeral for the first time in rural Alabama in the early 2000’s, it became abundantly apparent that traditional funeral services and “the way things have always been done” didn’t offer many options that had emotional value or meaning to me in a time of immense grief and loss. My family went through the motions of cookie cutter funeral planning, making decisions that didn’t feel personal to us, or to my mother who had passed, despite the kindness and effort of the funeral professionals who served us. Since then, I’ve known that there has to be a better way for this profession to serve non-traditional families.

However, it’s no secret to anyone in funeral services that this profession is changing rapidly, playing catch-up to a world that turns on a dime and evolves at breakneck speed. It’s true that many things about our profession have changed since the early aughts. Today we find ourselves with websites for our businesses, remote arrangements, video streaming services, and lots of brand new options to offer our families. However, it seems that the core structure of how funerals are planned and operated still hasn’t changed much, on average, across the country. This isn’t true for every funeral home, and there are tons of innovative professionals in the industry working hard to drive our country’s relationship to death, dying, and bereavement forward. 

One important institution doing just that is the Insight Institute. Led by Glenda Stansbury, Insight Institute offers Celebrant training, which focuses on how to meet families where they are with truly personalized memorials that let go of any attachment to a specific religion or preconceived notion about what a funeral service “should be.” I attended an Insight Institute Celebrant Training in May of this year, and it changed the way that I think about the concept of “meeting families where they are”. The training provided valuable data about who death planners in the US are today, who they will be in the future, and vital education about how to create memorials, rituals, and ceremonies, for a person from any walk of life. Data shows that the needs of funeral consumers are changing, so it’s clear that Celebrant services have value in every funeral home doing business today

Personalization in Funeral Services 

Celebrant training drove home the real meaning of personalization in funeral care, and as Glenda famously says “personalization is NOT a product.” The families that we serve today are actively looking for personalization in funeral care more than ever before. A 2021 survey by Kates Boylston Publications revealed that 79% of death planners feel that personalization is either extremely important or very important in funeral services, whereas only 7.4% of those surveyed said that personalization wasn’t important to them.

Our profession has been aware of the need for more “personalization” in the services that we offer for some time, but the term “personalization” can often feel vague, and the first impulse can be to simply offer different styles of urns, caskets, and add-ons to sell to families. However, when I think about the relationships in my life that matter, products and commodities are never what comes to mind. Experiences, details, and the history between myself and that person are what make the relationship important. Helping families feel genuinely connected to the unique relationship they had with a loved one during a service is what makes that service feel personalized and meaningful. 

The primary way to help families feel connected to their loved one during a funeral service is through the aspects of storytelling that are woven into the memorial. This necessarily takes time. Truly personalizing a funeral service requires taking time to get to know the deceased through talking to family members, asking in-depth questions, and chipping past the surface of “She loved her family,” “He was a good man,” or “They cared about their work.” 

This is where certified Celebrants become a huge asset to your business. Funeral directors often don’t have time to schedule in-depth interviews with each family to get to know who every decedent was on a deep level. However, that’s exactly what Celebrants are trained to do when writing and planning a service. The family interview is the centerpiece around which each unique Celebrant service is planned and carried out. Working with Celebrant independent contractors, and educating families about the special and meaningful memorials they create will add tons of value to the services that your funeral home provides.

Personalization is a particular area of importance for cremation families, as burial has had hundreds of years to develop a variety of rituals and ceremonies that can be personalized, but cremation is still relatively new. However, there are also some simple ways to make the cremation services you already offer more personalized and meaningful today. One experience that every funeral director can easily personalize is the moment of returning cremated remains or solidified remains to your family. Personalized receiving ceremonies will benefit both your families and your business, by setting your services apart, and helping each family feel seen and supported uniquely. Organizing a service that is highly personalized and includes ceremony, participation, and storytelling, focusing on who the deceased was and the relationships they had, also creates important emotional connection and meaning for families and can help them transition into the grieving process in a more healthy way.

Celebrant Services Can Be For Everyone 

In order to maintain successful funeral businesses, and understand the needs of the families that we serve, we need to know who our funeral consumers are, why they make the choices they do, and what trends we have seen emerging among consumers in the past few years. According to research published on USA Today from a survey performed by Choice Mutual Insurance,

“47% of Americans opt for burial plans based on personal beliefs, while 24% say family traditions influence their decision. Only 14% of Americans ascribe financial reasons as the determining factor for their choice.”

This tells us that personal beliefs are driving the majority of death planning decisions today, which points back to the need to provide real personalization to families. This survey also tells us that fewer people make funeral choices based on budget than we might think. Families are willing to pay for funeral services that they see perceived value in. Offering celebrant services as an option can help increase the perceived value of the services you offer. 

Additionally Americans in general are increasingly secular and less Christian-affiliated across the board. According to data from the PEW Research Centre, Americans who identify as Christian have been on the decline since the early 2000’s and Americans who identify with no specific religion have been on the upswing since then. This trend is predicted to continue, and is already reflected in the death planners that we see as our customers in funeral service today. 

Furthermore, according to CANA’s 2022 Annual Statistics Report, cremations continued their steady and predictable growth in the US from 2020 to 2021. The report reveals that “In 2021, the US cremation rate was 57.5%. In 2020, 56.1%. By 2025, the US cremation rate is projected to reach 64.1% and 81.8% in Canada.” This growth is happening despite many funeral directors being less than enthusiastic about cremation vs. traditional burial, which tells us that steadily growing numbers of families are seeking out cremation specifically on their own (based on personal beliefs like environmentalism, and family traditions if we look back to the Choice Mutual survey data.) Cana’s study also tells us that families that are less religious or are affiliated with non-Christian religions, more educated, and less likely to own homes, and have higher incomes are more likely to choose cremation. This demographic of funeral planners also seems less likely to want standard or traditional funeral services. 

What all of this information tells us is that we are in the middle of a big transition in who our funeral businesses are serving. We are transitioning from a traditional client base who chooses burial and traditional religious customs for services to a client base who is interested in new disposition methods, and more likely to choose secular, innovative, and unique options for funerals.  We are seeing a more diverse set of needs and a higher demand for personalization among death planners than ever before, and funeral businesses need to plan for offering services as diverse as those death planners are. This leads back to understanding the value of Celebrant services. Celebrants are trained to provide honour, ceremony, and storytelling that is personalized to each specific decedent and family in every service they build. Since Celebrant services are inherently designed to be personalized to the specific decedent and family, incorporating them into the services that you offer regularly is a great way that each family’s needs are served, from the most traditional to the most eccentric. Understanding the value of Celebrant services in your funeral home will position your business at the cutting edge of death care and set you up to serve all of your families today and tomorrow.

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