Priests refusing to bury non-church members

Opting out of the church making funerals more complicated

More and more folkekirken priests are refusing to hold funeral services for non-members of the Danish state church.

Last year, 83 percent of those who died in Denmark were buried, interred or cremated with the involvement of a priest from the Church of Denmark,

But with increasing numbers quitting the church (in the process reclaiming the monthly contribution routinely paid by every Danish citizen – 1 percent of their income), more clergy are declining to bury non-members, even if their family requests a Christian burial service.

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

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.

“Many expect priests to be lenient, but as a priest, it is disrespectful of the deceased’s choice to bury them using church rituals,” Peter Nejsum, a vicar at Brønshøj Church, told Kristeligt Dagblad.

“I would personally not like it if my survivors decided to have me buried in an atheist’s cemetery.”

Nejsum suggested that priests conduct a memorial rather than burial service for family members who want a church send-off.

The high cost of dying
Currently, if a priest refuses to conduct the ceremony, a non-church member can still be buried in a church yard following a service held by a funeral director.

Opting out of the church can be expensive for survivors when a loved one passes away. In Helsingør, church members pay just over 4,500 kroner to be buried in the church cemetery, while non-members – or their relatives – are forced to pay nearly 13,000 kroner for the same privilege.

According to Danmarks Statistik in 2013, some 79.1 percent of the Danish population are members of the church, but only 3 percent regularly attend services.