CHURCH leaders have reacted with qualified enthusiasm to council plans that will see crematorium services broadcast to mourners over the internet.
Under proposals put forward by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which are due to be implemented in the new year, families who wish to have the service ‘live streamed’ will have £50 added onto their invoice.
In addition to bringing in extra revenue, the council say broadcasting the service over the internet will allow those who are unable to attend the cremation, due to distance or illness, the ability to feel part of the procedure.
Cliff Allen, a minister at the Evangelical Church of Christ on Commercial Road and secretary of Churches for Tunbridge Wells said, in his own opinion, that he saw several benefits to the scheme, but warned it could be misused.
“Personally I think it allows people who are distant or infirm to still participate in the celebration of life and that is important. But I wouldn’t want to see it become an alternative to the communal bereavement process.”
Reverend Allen believes it is ‘probably inevitable’ that the use of internet broadcasting would become more normalised in the future and could cover other services such as weddings.
He added: “It would be sad though if we ended up with a ‘pseudo community’ as opposed to a real one for events such as weddings and funerals. There is a lot of value in face to face contact and being present in person.”
Clive Mansell, Archdeacon of Tonbridge, said ‘hopefully’ live streaming arrangements will be of ‘some help and comfort’ to individuals who cannot attend the funeral service, adding: “It may enable them to feel closer to the occasion itself and thereby more fully to join in the prayers at such a service.”
The idea is not novel to Tunbridge Wells and has been around for several years. A survey of funeral directors across the UK carried out in October found 61 per cent of them had received requests for live-streaming of services and around a fifth of Britain’s 281 crematoriums already have webcams in place.
Nationally, leading funeral directors speaking to The Telegraph warned the option could ‘pander to people’s laziness’ and ‘let them off the emotional hook.’
However, Father Peter Stodart, of Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church in Tunbridge Wells, said he had ‘no problem’ with the idea, having conducted funeral services himself which had been live streamed ‘to the other side of the world’.
He also does not think it will lead to people opting to stay at home when they could otherwise attend, adding he assumed “anyone who could be there would be there.”
Ken Dry, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Registrar, said: “The webcast is accessible through any device with an internet browser compatible with Microsoft Silverlight. After the funeral service it will be available to view on demand for a period of seven days.
“The audio visual recording equipment is installed in the chapel and the camera is fixed so that it focuses on the person conducting the service.
“A number of crematoria around the country already offer this facility. We have decided to introduce it because demand elsewhere suggests it may be something that people would like to take advantage of here.”
In order to ensure the service is only broadcast to the right people login details and a password details are given to those ‘attending’ in order to protect privacy.