Church’s funeral fee policy angers bereaved families

Non-members have to fork over hundreds for sanctuaries and pastors.

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

When Asia-Lige Arnold contacted Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Daytona Beach last month about using the sanctuary for the funeral of her godfather, she was shocked by the answer she received.

Dr. Michael A. Chambers preaches on Easter Sunday at Greater Friendship Baptist Church.
(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

First, the family would have to pay $650 to use the church for the service. Then the eulogy would have to be delivered by the church’s senior pastor, Dr. Michael A. Chambers, for an additional $450.

It’s not unusual these days for churches – large and small – to charge funeral fees, especially to non-members. The church fee is totally separate from funeral home charges.

‘A shame’
Arnold was seeking to use the sanctuary for Dr. Dwyron Keevin Gillard Sr. who died on Aug. 26 at age 49. He was a former band director at Mainland High School and Campbell Middle School. Gillard, a Bethune-Cookman graduate, is credited with writing the university’s signature band song, “Let’s Go, Wildcats.’’

“We just would like to basically say that it was a shame that a pillar in the community would not be considered to have use of the church for the funeral,’’ Arnold told the Daytona Times. “How can the pastor eulogize someone that he doesn’t know?’’

Went to Allen Chapel
Gillard’s funeral was held across the street at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church on Sept. 2, but Arnold said the family had special ties to Greater Friendship.

“Greater Friendship had sentimental value to the family. The Gillards were married there 23 years ago. We were initially informed that we would have access to the church but when I called, I was informed … that they don’t allow non-members to have funeral services there. Also…all costs had to include the pastor’s eulogy,” Arnold explained.

Got an apology
She further stated, “The deceased son, Keevin Jr. was also a former musician at Greater Friendship. He played there often and they considered him to be a member. One of their ministers did call me, apologized and gave accolades to Keevin Jr. She told me the policy had changed under the new administration.”

Tawana Hicks said her family was upset when her grandmother Beatrice Wyche, who had been a longtime member of the church, could not have a courtesy service at Greater Friendship.

Hicks explained, “My grandmother went there for a long time but she stopped going when after her son passed away and she couldn’t have his funeral there. She kept sending money to the church through [a deacon]’’

“When she passed away, I called to have her funeral there but they told me that she wasn’t a member, but she should have been. … Our family was pretty upset.”

The Daytona Times made several attempts to reach Chambers, the senior pastor, but he declined to comment.

Up to pastor, board
The Rev. Nathan Mugala, senior pastor of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, said he usually will charge a non-member for a eulogy. The board of trustees will weigh in on the process if he’s doing the eulogy.

“I’ll ask for a donation, but that’s up to the board of trustees. Now, if another pastor does the eulogy, it’s up to the family and that pastor,’’ he told the Times.

The church’s average fee for a funeral service is $500.

Arnold said she was pleased with the service held there for Gillard.

“Allen Chapel did a wonderful job. We thank them. The funeral had to have 800 to 1,000 people. The church and their other part was both filled due to an overflow,” she noted.

Depends on circumstances
The Rev. Derrick Harris, pastor of Master’s Domain Church of God in Christ and president of the Daytona Beach Black Clergy Alliance, said his church charges up to $450. It depends on the family’s circumstances.

“Our church started from the back of the barbershop. We have always opened our doors for funerals, especially for most of the young men who have died to street violence,” he explained.

“My wife and I make the decisions at our church while others have to deal with deacon and trustee boards. My wife and I also foot 80 percent of the expenses at the church, which includes the mortgages and lights. I personally have never taken a salary from the church and whatever we charge goes into the church,” he noted.

‘A new way now’
Harris also owns Cut Master’s Barber Shop on Orange Avenue, where he frequently works on Saturdays. If he has to do a funeral on a Saturday, that takes him away from the barbershop. That is taken into consideration.

The pastor said to cut some churches some slack due to the current financial landscape many are facing.

“Many churches are opening from Monday through Sunday just to maintain. There are 259 churches in a 10-mile radius along MLK (Martin Luther King Boulevard), George Engram and the Mary McLeod Bethune corridor. So many are fighting to survive. Many don’t have the financial stability,’’ he explained.

“Eighty percent of people don’t go to church anymore. It’s just a new way now. People don’t sit in church service all day long anymore. Many people have access to services through TV, radio and online. People don’t sit as long as they used to nowadays,” he added.

Chapel an option
Alexander Wynn, director of R.J. Gainous Funeral Home, said families should take in consideration those separate church costs when planning a service.

The average local funeral is about $5,000. A funeral chapel is a consideration, which could help keep the cost down.

Gainous Funeral has a chapel with a capacity of 180 people and can accommodate an overflow of 120 totaling up to 300 people.

“A decent funeral can be that or even more. Then if you start adding things, it costs more and more. We can do one for $4,600 at Gainous,’’ he related. Wynn said extra features such as additional limousines can considerably drive up the cost.

Wynn added, “You can also have funerals at funeral homes, cemeteries, churches and chapels. We did two funerals at the funeral home last week. We have yet to use the overflow.’’

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow… my church in DeLand don’t charge for funerals. My father/pastor believes that the church is apart of the community. Therefore, we open our doors without fees.

    Greater Refuge Church (DeLand)
    Bishop James Darby, Pastor

  2. Everything is a business anymore, whether it’s a celebration (wedding) or mourning (funeral), the church has to pay the bills!!! Can the funeral home director leave $1000 from the life insurance policy so the church can get paid, since all they do is suck the life out of people (literally) anyway. Please consider people are mourning and stop taking advantage of the situation

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