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Interview with a Civil Funeral Celebrant: Effie Maclellan

Video of an interview with a civil funeral celebrant, Effie Maclellan
EFFIE MACLELLAN: So I’m Effie Maclellan, and I’m a Civil Funeral Celebrant. My essential job is to help a family prepare for the funeral of a loved one and then work with the family in preparing the ceremony for that funeral. A funeral that is a religious ceremony will be familiar, very, very familiar to many people. And if you are a religious person, if you go to any particular church or follow a faith, then a religious funeral is a very natural consequence. You would naturally go. But the religious funeral has its own shape and form, and there isn’t a lot of room for choice. People want choice now. They want choice in everything. And so they want choice in funerals as well.
And for a long time in this country, the choice was either a religious funeral or a Humanist funeral, which was, if you like, almost diametrically opposed, because Humanists, the Humanism movement doesn’t acknowledge that there is any possibility of an afterlife. It is non-religious. Whereas a Civil funeral is one that is driven by the wishes and beliefs of the family. In other words, what I believe or might believe doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, because I’m only there to serve the family. So when I meet with a family, I make that very clear that it’s what they want to happen at the funeral ceremony that matters.
It can be me speaking the whole time, or it could be me introducing it and a family member tells the story, or any combination thereof. One experienced Celebrant said to me when I was starting off, “Effie”, he said, “as long as it’s legal and decent, they can do anything they want”. And I’ve kept these words in my head. As long as it’s legal and decent, they can do anything. And many families have their own particular preferences. We’ve had an accordion player playing, we’ve had a violinist playing, we’ve had singers. I think a funeral for a young person, where there are a lot of young people in the audience, I think that has to be recognised.
That’s different from a funeral for somebody who’s lived to 96 years, which is a wonderful achievement in itself. But when you have a funeral for a young person, then the young person’s notion of what a funeral is very different from an older person’s. And I think young people have to be encouraged to mourn in their way, do it their way, you know, to have the kind of music that they want, to have the kind of gear. I think that’s actually quite important. The greatest compliment to me is when other people will say “you knew so-and-so”, and I say “no, I never met so-and-so in my life”.
And if I can do a funeral that captures a story that they recognise, then that means I’ve done it. For me, that means I’ve done a good job. You need to have life experience, and you need to be tolerant and open minded and willing to receive information that some might want to sanitise a little bit. You need to be kind of open and real about what life is. Life isn’t always easy for everybody. In my view, a funeral ceremony should not be a CV. It’s not the chronology of– you know, in 19 whatever, he went to school, and then he went to secondary school, and then he went to university. It’s not like that.
It’s got to bring the story about the person, and people more and more want that element. So I know that there are certain things that I’ve got to do during the course of that funeral celebrant. I’ve going to welcome the guests, acknowledge why we’re here, acknowledge formally that we’re seeing bye-bye to a particular person. Then we would have the story of their lives, whatever that was going to be that was being shared, and then we would have to have the disposition, whether that was a cremation or a burial, or if it had been a memorial service, then there would be no coffin or body present, because we would have already done that.
So people vary very much, and Civil Celebrancy affords families that choice to do it their way basically.

Please watch the video of an interview with a Funeral Celebrant in Scotland, UK.

Funeral Celebrants have had to adapt to changing times and client expectations with respect to the personalisation of funerals. Effie McClellan discusses the changing nature of her role as a Civil Celebrant – her interactions with clients, how she goes beyond the ‘CV’ or Resumé approach to communicating a person’s biography, and what she considers to be the highlights of her job.

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