Upon death, former church members are all dressed up with no place to go

With churches refusing to bury non-members, family members are left searching for alternatives

As more and more Danes are opting out of membership in the Church of Denmark (folkekirken), the family members left behind when an ex-member dies often receive another nasty shock in the midst of their grief when they discover there is no place for their loved one in the local cemetery.

“I had a client who had no idea that her husband had opted out of the church,” Bente Lorenzen, the director of a Vejle funeral home, told Politiken newspaper. ”She was completely distraught that her local pastor would not perform her husband’s funeral.”

Even when the survivors are aware that the deceased was not a church member, they are often surprised when the church says 'no' to performing a funeral ceremony.

Mogens Balling of the  national funeral association Landsforeningen Liv&Død said that families often panic when they find out a church burial is not possible. The families are often not aware of what other options may be available.

Bishop Anders Gadegaard from Vor Frue Church in Copenhagen is also the director of the Danish Council of Churches. He said that when priests hear from a distraught family, they should talk with them to see if a church service is appropriate. Gadegaard said that the dead should be buried using a ceremony that represents their beliefs … or the lack thereof. Non-Christian ceremonies conducted in a chapel by a funeral director are often available.

Opting out of the church can also cost survivors a bit of cash when their loved one passes away. Burying a casket at Kristrup cemetery in Randers is free for church members. but the same spot costs nearly 14,500 kroner for a non-member.

In Helsingør, church members pay just over 4,500 kroner to be permanently planted in the church cemetery, while non-members – or their relatives – are forced to fork over nearly 13,000 kroner for the same privilege.

The price for a burial in larger cities like Copenhagen, Odense or Aalborg, where the cemeteries are owned by local authorities, tend to be the same for both church members and non-members.

Inge Lise Pedersen, the director of Danske Menighedsråd, the national parish association, had no problem with the price discrepancy in smaller towns and villages.

"It is fair that those who have not contributed to the church pay full price,” Pedersen told Politiken. “Church members should get a discount.”

Pedersen expressed no sympathy for those families where the husband – usually the family member with the highest income – has left the church while the wife remained a member.

"She shows up when he dies, wringing her hands to the pastor saying that he never intended to leave the church. Well, he did leave,” said Pedersen.

During the first half of 2012, nearly 12,000 Danes left folkekirken, almost as many as the 13,000 who left during all of 2011.