People who die alone are still children of God

Martin Fair Denise Mina
Rev Martin Fair and Denise Mina

A Church of Scotland minister featured in a BBC Radio Scotland programme today to underline the importance of giving people with no relatives or friends a decent funeral.

Rev Martin Fair of St Andrew’s Church in Arbroath was interviewed for a documentary called His Name was Henry.

Author Denise Mina, who spoke to the minister, explores the life of pensioner Henry Summers, who was found dead in his Edinburgh flat in June 2015, having lain undiscovered for three years.

Interviewed at the Church offices in Edinburgh, Mr Fair said funerals for people with no next of kin or friends were "uncommon" and over the 25 years of his ministry he has carried out one every "couple of years".

Respect and dignity

Asked by Ms Mina how he conducted such a funeral, Mr Fair said: "I will try and do some background research and even though there may be no next of kin, no family officially speaking, there may be a friend or an old buddy from times gone by.

"So usually I am able to find out some background about the person.

"But really beyond that I am going to treat it with the same respect and offer the person the same dignity as I would with any funeral.

"I will think about the prayers, Bible readings and sentiments that I am going to share on that occasion.

"And even though there is no one else in attendance apart from myself and the funeral director, it will still be the best that we can do."

Mr Fair said the need to conduct such funerals was a mark of shame on 21st century Scottish society.

He added that it was important to recognise someone's value and worth after death.

Personal

Mr Fair said: "Even if I have someone there we know nothing about and who appears to be entirely unconnected, it is still very much in my mind someone's son, someone's sister or relative.

"I have three sons of my own and I would always hope that if they came on hard times or found themselves neglected, vulnerable and alone, there would be somebody there who would care.

"I think as a parish minister that is what I am trying to express in conducting a funeral in these circumstances.”

Mr Fair said he tried to make the funeral as personal as possible.

"It would be easy just to go through the motions, rattle out a service in five minutes and walk away to my next engagement,” he added.

"But whatever happens in life, this person is essentially still a child of God in my eyes."