No More Hymns?

What is taking the place of hymns in funeral services?

The tradition of singing hymns at funerals was not officially approved by the Church of England until 1820, but since then it has been a mainstay of services in the UK. However, changing tastes has seen a decline in recent years, and a study carried out by financial services company SunLife, found that 82% of people over 50 did not want a hymn sung at their funeral at all.

Perhaps the reason in the decline might lie in people’s changing attitudes towards funerals. It seems less common now to believe that the sole purpose of the service is to mourn a death, but instead families want a celebration of their loved one’s life.

families want a celebration of their loved one’s life.

The U.K. also seems to be experiencing an ongoing transition in terms of its religious identity, with the proportion of the population who described themselves as Anglican having halved since 1983. A recent survey carried out by leading independent social research institute, NatCen, found that while 43.8% defined themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations, 48.5% identified themselves as having no religion. Changing tastes as well as financial pressures means fewer crematoria now employ a full-time organist and Obitus estimates it to be at less than 40%. According to Obitus’ play count data, hymns only make up three of the top 10 most played pieces of music at funerals, with Frank Sinatra’s song ‘My Way’ topping the list. A vicar based in the Rhondda Valley, Wales, has recently rewritten a series of traditional Welsh hymns for the 21st century in an attempt to save them from being forgotten. Father Paul Bigmore rewrote 50 hymns using simpler language with the hope of rekindling the Welsh culture of hymn singing. Perhaps hymns with a modern twist might strike more of a chord with people nowadays. According to the Co-operative Funeralcare’s 2014 study into the choice of music being played at funerals, 84% of Funeral Directors believed hymns were declining in popularity quicker than any other type of music. There will no doubt be a demand for hymns at funerals for years to come and many people will still prefer the sober dignity of a traditional service, but it seems the desire for people to be celebrated rather than mourned is on the increase. A survey carried out by ICM revealed that 54% wanted their funeral to be a ‘celebration of life’, often incorporating their favourite hobbies, sports teams or songs, with the latter becoming a theme tune to their passing. Written by Nick Ford for Obitus

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