Sunday, June 21, 2009

Death and All His Friends

The BBC website currently has a vid of the 'UK's first Festival of the Dying'. The Transitus Festival, held yesterday in Sturminster Newton, Dorset (just down the road), comes with a strong New Age agenda. One of the sponsoring bodies is very keen on 'sacred sites' around Glastonbury, and many of the festival workshops feature guardian angels, psychic artists and the like. The Christian chaplain from Dorchester was also down to do a workshop, so good for her for getting involved.

The main themes of the Festival included palliative care, green burials, and helping with the dying process. Our culture has lost a lot of its rituals and beliefs around death, so it is open season for pretty much anyone who can help to steer people through it. One challenge for the church is how do we engage with New Age beliefs around death, and how do we engage more meaningfully with people than simply delivering the funeral service.

Intriguing that the BBC reported on the festival without any sense that it was coming from the 'wacky fringe'. The core of the report is that the NHS is percieved to be failing people at the point of death in the care it gives to patients and their loved ones. It also mentioned spiritual values around death.

It's significant that the reporter talks of 'new rituals' springing up around death and dying, and that people want a 'more personal approach'. At a recent research day at Church House there was talk of a 'Funerals Project', which might engage with how people percieve church-led funerals. The outcomes of a similar project on marriage spoke of how much people valued the personal touch, rather than a conveyor-belt approach. The challenge is how we create time and space for that to happen alongside so many other things which seem like priorities.

For info, here's part of the Transitus philosophy:
The Network comprises a growing group of people working in a way that honours all aspects of life - mind, body, spirit and emotions - that are involved with the sacred process of dying. Our aims are: to release fears and taboos; support those dying and bereaved; raise awareness of 'green' and family-based approaches to death; and to encourage the acceptance of the concept of continuity of consciousness. The Network also supports its members so that none of us feels alone. Members include those working with: midwifing the soul; music thanatology; alternative funerals and celebrations; natural burials; grief counselling; life after death; related workshops; and more.

At one level this is a typical New Age paragraph about death. But apart from a couple of strange bits of jargon, why isn't this seen as part of what Christian faith offers? Death as a sacred process, the treatment of the whole person, life after death, enabling people to die well, grief counselling, etc. Maybe the problem is that our engagement with death has become so professionalised - through the clergy and the clergy alone - that creative and personal approaches which could come from the wider body of Christ have been crowded out.

What do you think?

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