For decades traditional hymns such as Abide with Me and The Lord Is My Shepherd have been staples at British funerals. But their popularity is waning as more people opt instead for cheerier secular songs. A shift to more balanced ceremonies which involve celebration as well as mourning has driven an increase in pop songs and poems. Alison Crake, president of the National Association of Funeral Directors said that popular music was “certainly becoming more commonplace” at funerals. She said: “Funerals today are rapidly becoming as much a celebration of life as a farewell and are becoming increasingly personalised.” Research by insurer SunLife found that 45 per cent of ceremonies now do not include a hymn, and more than half of funeral directors have seen a decrease in religious services.Younger age groups are more likely to choose secular music, with just 12 per cent of those aged 50 to 54 choosing a hymn, compared to one in four over-65s.Sandra Millar, head of life events at the Church of England, said: “Perhaps people have a memory of a hymn that feels sad because they have previously sung it at a sad event. “Because people are also less used to singing nowadays they might also be more likely to have a recording.”The popularity of church funerals has declined because of the introduction of secular celebrants who can lead non-religious ceremonies. Just over one in three funerals now take place in the Church of England.Ms Millar suggested that this could be another reason behind the decline of hymns. There is no compulsion to have hymns at a church funeral but she said it was relatively rare to have a church ceremony with no hymns at all. Ceremonies which take place in crematoriums also tend to have limited time slots, reducing the time available to sing hymns. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The research also found that 80 per cent of funeral directors have seen an increase in “celebration of life” services, which can include live bands, firework displays and balloon releases. But Ms Millar cautioned that mourners’ secular music choice was not always appropriate for church.”I sometimes say ‘maybe that would be more suitable for the reception'”, she said. “Sometimes when you listen to a song all the way through you realise that it has quite an odd message – you have to make sure it’s appropriate for the venue,” she said.
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