Faith remains important factor in funeral rites of ethnic communities

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The country was deeply saddened at the drowning of five young Tamils at Camber Sands last month. The tragedy highlighted the continued importance of faith-based funerals in the UK.

The drowning of five young Sri Lankan friends at Camber Sands last month shocked the nation. Kenugen Saththiyanathan, Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, Nitharsan Ravi, Inthushan Sriskantharasa, and Gurushanth Srithavarajah, who were on a day out at the seaside, lived in south-east London and played an active role in their community; they were active in local football and cricket clubs, and volunteers at their place of worship, the impressive Sivan Temple.

The media covered the funeral and the abiding image was the horse drawn traditional hearses and the funeral director’s staff in similarly Victorian black top hats and suits, going past throngs of Tamil mourners. This company, like many others in our cities, now provide funerals for the many faiths and communities that enrich the diversity of our nation, and clearly, they did a fine job.

At a time when most British people now say they have little or no religious beliefs, as reported in The Guardian, this funeral confirms that for many from the more newly arrived communities, faith still has a huge influence. This is not just true for those from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa, but also southern and eastern Europe. For many first and second-generation migrants to the UK, the community offered by a place of worship and their faith provides the social glue and support that they need after the upheaval of moving to a new country.

The strength of religious community within minority groups is in sharp contrast to that of the UK's indigenous population. The National Centre for Social Research's (NatCen) most recent British Social Attitudes survey showed those who said they have no religion, referred to as “nones”, reached 48.5 percent while only 43.3 percent identified themselves as being Christian, though these figures are taken from England only. That said a recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that 52 percent of the population were not religious.

Four out of ten adults raised as Anglicans now define themselves as having no religion, and a similar number of those brought up in the Catholic church have abandoned their religion to become ‘nones’. Anglican churches lose 12 followers for every person they recruit, and Catholic churches ten. There is an interesting juxtaposition here, as while church attendances continue to steadily decline, the numbers of British families choosing church funerals has not fallen at such a pronounced rate. It's a trend that suggests rather than being a nation of agnostics or atheists; we see the church as being relevant to us only at key events in life, i.e. Christenings, marriages and funerals!

Therefore, if religion plays so little part in our lives maybe it is worth talking to your family about how you want your life to be marked once your time comes.

Death is a great leveller, and is utterly democratic, ending the lives of everyone whether rich, poor, black, white, old and young. Death is a tragedy for family members of the deceased, but these life events should be expected and planned for.

It is a tribute to the decency of people in this country, that whatever our personal beliefs, our humanity is able to unite us in sadness, as the tragic deaths of five young men at Camber Sands showed so eloquently.

Tags: death cremation Grief funeral rites funeral directors Sri Lankan Tamils Roman Catholic Orthodox Christian Hindu Sikh Kenugen Saththiyanathan Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan Nitharsan Ravi Inthushan Sriskantharasa Gurushanth Srithavarajah

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