High Profile Deaths

"Managing" the media at a funeral service

When a death becomes a “news item”, there is likely to be some media interest in covering the funeral. The hope in these circumstances will be to balance the needs of the family and friends first, while recognising what is often a legitimate wider interest that the media will seek to cover.

Some key considerations

  • The priority is to respect the needs and wishes of the bereaved. Nothing should be done without the understanding and agreement of the next-of-kin concerned.
  • People in the local community may want to share their expression of grief through the media, therefore be mindful that the conduct of the service is likely to be very helpful in assisting a wider audience come to terms with the situation.
  • Do try to allow journalists and photographers to do their ‘job’, they will frequently have no alternative but to cover the service. What they ‘need’ and how to help achieve this, in whatever way has been agreed with the next-of-kin, should help put you in a position where this can be managed thoughtfully for all concerned.
  • With planning, these aspects can be managed once agreement has been reached between the next-of-kin and member of Clergy.

If there is likely to be quite a lot of media interest, a pre-emptive statement outlining the church and family's plans for the service will be a helpful tool.

Steps to consider

  • It will frequently be the case that the next-of-kin will wish to have a private service for family and friends - and keep media cameras away from the private service. A statement should open with this and provide the details for the service
  • To help keep the media away from the service, try to pre-empt what they are likely to want and help facilitate this “outside” of the services.
  • To facilitate this, the statement should include a line with words to the effect that “for members of the media wishing to cover the service, please first contact XYZ to discuss how their requirements might be met”.

The questions to consider for ‘managing’ the media

Having directed the media to whom to contact within the public statement (be it the Office Administrator, Churchwarden, Parish Communications Officer, or member of Clergy), have in advance a position on what has been agreed with the next-of-kin and have this ready to give to the media to manage their activities on the day of the service.

Things to consider would be:

  1. Can a photographer be permitted at the back of the church in a fixed point for photographs only? If so where should they sit, are there restrictions to what you ask that they photograph etc?
  2. Can the Media be invited to the church an hour before the Service? This might provide a 30-minute window for photographs of the Church, Clergy, Flowers etc.
  3. If the media wish to ‘film’ footage, having them do so 60-90 minutes before the service and providing them access to certain areas of the church can also help. Again, discuss this with the family to ensure this will be okay, as even with the next-of-kin not being at the church at this time, it is always important that they know what might be asked and how you can both try to agree the best option for this.
  4. If possible, the organist might also be present in this pre-service media timeframe and be willing to play a couple of verses of the hymns to be recorded and used by the media.
  5. A family member might wish to be filmed reflecting on the sad events. Discuss this with the next-of-kin to agree if this is the case, and then where on the church grounds they might wish to have this take place, this can then be explained to the media.
  6. The Clergy might be asked to say something, again with agreement and understanding from the next-of-kin, agree what this might look like, often prior to the service will be a ‘better’ time to manage and offer this. Words would of course be ones that include reflecting on the circumstances and of tribute to the deceased.
  7. If a written statement to accompany a photo (of the clergy or the next-of-kin) will suffice, this can be prepared in advance and is often preferred by many family members to having to speak directly with the media.
  8. Irrespective of whether the media will be permitted into the service in any way, an understanding that they will be outside of the church is important. Decide and agree in advance where you might wish for them to remain outside of the church. This will allow the next-of-kin to be prepared for where the media will be before and after the service during the arrival and departure of the family and friends.
  9. Try to choose an area for photographers that avoids cameras getting too close or too direct a photograph of the mourner's faces. A prior discussion with the Funeral Director may help manage this by the positioning of the arrival of the cortege in such a way as to provide a degree of shielding.
  10. Be mindful that if you invite the media into an area within the church grounds, they are likely to move about to some extent and will likely seek to speak with attendees of the service, so if possible try to impress upon them the sensitises of the moment and to refrain from approaching mourners unless approached.
  11. If the media are to be permitted into the service, ensure they have a ‘minder’ to keep them in a/the pre-agreed section of the church.
  12. Try to ensure (while explaining to the media whatever arrangements you are happy to facilitate with them), that they also have an Order of Service prior to the service, and potentially any additional photographs of the deceased the next-of-kin might wish to share.
  13. Often to help support any decisions that are agreed with the media, ensuring the church has as many volunteers “on-site” as may be needed, who are aware of the agreed procedures, will help ensure a smooth running of the service for the family without inadvertent media interruption.
  14. Lastly, there is frequently a supportive member of Clergy colleague who would have gone through an experience like this directly, and so local church leaders are encouraged to also speak with the Rural Dean or Archdeacon, who should be able to offer invaluable support.

Death of a Senior Member of the Royal Family

Upon the death of a senior member of the Royal family, parish church leaders should again seek guidance and advice from the Church of England website (click here), this will include liturgical resources, timelines, bell and flag guidance and suggestions for how parishes might mark the event.

Parishes are reminded that the Sunday Morning Resources page will include an Order of Service and Homily for use by parishes in vacancy whena senior member of the Royal family dies. 

Some items to consider

  • Consider holding a number of candles/tea lights in stock
  • Members of the public may wish to place flowers, cards or other items at a church after the death of a significant public figure.  Advance consideration should be given to an area that could be used for this purpose, as well as any possible logistical considerations for managing large numbers of church visitors.
  • Have a condolence book ready. One suggestion is this could be a ring-binder with good quality paper which can be added to easily if needed. Consider also an online condolence book, if this is more appropriate to your own church circumstances.
  • Make sure you register your church and become an editor with A Church Near You (ACNY) where guidance and resources are frequently shared directly with editors.
  • Have a stock of prayer cards ready
  • Regularly check and maintain the condition of your church bells and/or flag poles, where relevant, to ensure they in in good working order when required.
  • You might wish to familiarise yourself with bell and flag guidance ahead of time and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers and British Flag Institute carry some specific guidance on such matters that might be helpful to read in advance.
  • Churches might wish to consider the scheduling of any national, diocesan and regional events in the planning of their own services.
  • Have a black photograph frame ready to hold a picture of who has died. 
  • Keep any eye open for any communications from the Bishop's Office, which may contain local guidance in addition to that being shared by the Church of England team.
  • During any period of national mourning, consider carefully what communications your church undertakes, including things such as scheduled social media news items, as these may not be appropriate and might be best paused.
  • Resources for private prayer and public worship are expected to be available through the Church of England website. Resources can also be expected for schools to use, both on the Church of England website and also from the local Diocesan Education teams.
  • Cambridge University Press will be the publishers of any printed resources, so parishes wishing to purchase these materials after the announcement of a royal death should visit the Cambridge University Press website.
  • As well as prayers being on the Church of England website, parishes can also expect them to be shared across social media on the Church of England’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
  • It is expected that the Church of England national team will also arrange nationally streamed services on the Church of England’s Facebook and YouTube channels as well as on the Church of England website.
Page last updated: Monday 12th June 2023 10:09 AM
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