Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 20, 2009

Losing our Religion? Survey finds more saying they have no religion


Dan Jonkhoff, funeral director at Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City, said he has only seen a very small decrease in religious funerals, but has also seen an increase in non-Christian funerals.

"Most people want some kind of religious service," Jonkhoff said, "even if it's just a little bit."

He said there are families who don't have a regular church home who ask him for help in organizing a religious service and also families who don't have a traditional service at all, but instead gather together in a natural setting.

"Most people still have a need to have their friends and community around them," he said. "There's an old saying, 'Grief shared is grief diminished.'"

Jeanne Hannah is a family lawyer in Traverse City and also an ordained minister who performs more and more secular wedding ceremonies each year.

"People come from diverse backgrounds," she said, "and they want to integrate the meaning of those into their wedding. Sometimes it's to put the families at ease because those backgrounds are varied as well."

She said second weddings are often non-religious, but no less meaningful.

"I did one wedding where the families were blending and they had a vase with layered sand," she said. After each family member added a new layer of sand, the vase was tipped and the layers mingled with each other.

Hannah said she performs five to 10 weddings each year and gets requests for many more. Hannah grew up in a strict Lutheran family, converted to the Episcopal church in college and later was active in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

About 12 percent of Americans believe in a higher power but not the personal God at the core of monotheistic faiths. And, since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents -- 1.2 percent -- said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology, Wicca and Santeria.

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