Whenever a death becomes a news item, the odds are that there will be media interest in covering the funeral. The funeral is an end in the story. In coping with these funerals, the aim is to balance a number of quite legitimate needs and to negotiate a solution that satisfies as many parties as possible.
To respect the needs and wishes of the bereaved
This is of paramount importance and nothing should be done without the understanding and agreement of the next-of-kin concerned. The Communications Team can help with this by acting as a go-between - explaining options to the clergy and interested media involved who in turn will explain them to the next-of-kin before reporting back.
To recognise the interests of the community
Depending on the circumstances, many people may want to share in the expression of grief through the media. The conduct of the service and the address will often be very helpful in assisting a wider audience come to terms with the situation.
To enable journalists and photographers to do a professional job
Journalists and photographers will often have no alternative but to cover the service. Their need, and your ability to make the most of whatever information has been agreed by the next-of-kin, should put you in a position where your help will be valued and appreciated.
With careful planning and sensitive handling, all these aspects can be catered for once agreement on the parameters has been reached between the next-of-kin and Incumbent, or service leader.
If sufficient media interest is sparked, the best division of labour may be for the Incumbent or service leader to do their normal job and leave all the media relations work to the Communications Team.
A Possible Approach
Unless the next-of-kin have good reason for wanting the world to see the extent of their grief, the odds are that they will not want the cameras at the service. The best way of ensuring that this happens is to meet the media's needs before the service starts.
This can be done by inviting them to church 90 minutes before the service is due to start. Ideally, they will be able to film the minister in charge robed and in the pulpit or at the lectern delivering strictly edited highlights of the address. In this way, the minister can reflect on the circumstances, pay tribute to the deceased and say something brief about the Christian hope. Any particularly personal words to the next-of-kin can, of course, be omitted. The cameraman may also wish to film close-ups of flowers, stained glass windows and any other useful feature of the building.
The organist should also be present, if at all possible, and be willing to play a couple of verses of the hymns to be used and extracts from the music to be used at the beginning and end of the service.
The cameras will then move outside to a designated area to cover the arrival of the cortege and its departure. This area should be chosen, where possible, to avoid cameras getting frontal shots of mourner's faces. A word with the funeral director may be able to provide a helpful human shield as mourners get out of cars.
The resulting piece on TV will probably show the arrival of the cortege, fade in the music, cross-fade to the minister's address, show a cut-away, return to another section of the address, bring back the music over another cut away and then show the departure. Only very wary viewers may discern that the cameras were not at the actual service.
Variations on this approach will be required should the next-of-kin be happy to allow a sound feed or camera (still or TV) into the church. In either case, the Incumbent or officiating ministers should also be consulted for their consent. If the media are to be present at the service, they should have a minder to ensure they remain in designated positions. It will normally be helpful to operate a pooling arrangement, so that there are only one or two cameras.
In addition to these arrangements, make sure that an Order of Service and (edited) script of the sermon is made available to them just before the service.
The Communications Team can:
- Help and act for the service leader, the church and, if needs be, the next-of-kin;
- Keep a firm control over events and help everyone to understand the boundaries involved;
- Be the key contact and point of reference for the media, putting them in touch with the appropriate people;
- Protecting people as occasion demands;
- Make sure that an order of service and appropriate sermon transcript are available to the media shortly before the service.
The aim of this support is to free the service leader to focus on the normal routine of pastoral care of the bereaved and distressed and provide comment or interviews on behalf of the next-of-kin, offering a rational or Christian viewpoint where appropriate.
For further help or support, do not hesitate to contact the Communications Team