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Don't call it official yet, but many pastors may have one less thing on their plate in the coming years: officiating funerals. In the last decade, the American public has increasingly opted for funerals and memorial services that aren't led by ministers. According to William McQueen, president of the Cremation Association of North America, there's been a growing demand for secular "celebrants" who can deliver eulogies just as a pastor would—but without the religious or church rituals.

"What we've found in the past decade is that when you ask people whether they want a minister, people say, 'Not interested,'" McQueen says. "Today, of all the ceremonies we deal with, I'd say 50 percent are religious or clergy-led, 20 percent celebrant-led and 30 percent are having no ceremony or one led by family."

A 2008 survey of more than 6,000 people found that only one in four adults expects to have a religious service when they die. And with more than half of all Americans saying they don't belong to a church, many funeral directors believe Americans no longer see a value in religious funerals.

These people " don't see the need to be ushered into another world. There's no 'personal God' they expect to meet," says Ariela Keysar, who co-authored the 2008 survey at Trinity College's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture in Hartford, Conn. "It's revelatory about where current social attitudes are heading."

What's interesting to note, however, is that even among those not wanting a church- or pastor-influenced service, there is still a desire for spiritual elements such as scripture passages or prayers. "Quite a few of the people say they're 'spiritual but not religious' or just not involved with a church anymore," says Eldon "Bud" Strawn, a celebrant on call for a St. Petersburg, Fla., funeral center. "Quite a few of the Catholics say they don't want to deal with a priest because they think they'll be scolded or guilt-tripped." [, 8/20/09]

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