Archdeacon Robert MacRae, head of the B.C. Memorial Society

The Memorial Society of BC has been going through rebirth pangs for the past year. First born in 1956 in the basement of a Vancouver Unitarian church, the 200,000-member consumer advocacy group now has a new shape and direction.

In BC, Service Corporation International is usually known as First Memorial Funeral Services. Its important to note that our Memorial Society is not First Memorial and no longer has an association with them.

Rather, our Memorial Society is a BC registered, non-profit societya very large band of BC folk who have asked its board of directors to contract with funeral providers for simple and affordable funerals that hold respect and dignity for its members as essential.

The members benefit in several ways: they are assured of a reliable assessment of funeral homes by our non-profit society; a constant review of funeral-home performance; an affordable price list that is transparent to its members; and the adherence to a nine-page ethical code of conduct and business practices. All providers must sign this code before they are approved by the society.

For 45 years, the MSBC contracted with one main funeral providerService Corporation International, a large company based in Houston, Texas, that includes more than a thousand funeral homes in North America.

The contract between the society and that provider concluded last year. Then the society launched out into the deep with a new model to serve its membersa multi-provider model.

After a year of negotiations with BC-owned, Mum and Pop, community-based funeral providers, there are now some 17 funeral providers in 30 locations in contract with MSBC.

The communities extend from the Sunshine Coast to the Kootenays, from the Okanagan to Vancouver Island, and cover some 90 percent of BCs population. Within the Diocese of New Westminsters boundaries are nine funeral homes that have contracted with the society.

I think the society is one big gift to BC people. Although we emphasize choice, not cheap funerals, it is largely because of the work of the Memorial Society that British Columbians have what we believe to be the lowest funeral costs in North America. Our Society works closely with the provincial governments Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, and its advisory group for Cremation, Interment, and Funeral Services.

The society frowns on unethical up-selling of funeral products to people who are at their most vulnerable moment of life when they are grieving. The society asks its members to complete an arrangement form well in advance of need so that personal wishes and directions concerning their funeral are made when careful thought can be given to this sometimes difficult and painful recognition of human mortality.

The society keeps the arrangement forms on file. Personal wishes are not lost in the attic trunk, but available twenty-four hours to the next-of-kin or executor. It may be changed at any time up until death.

The cost of membership is $20 a once-only membership fee. After the death, the estate is charged a $35 records fee. Membership details may be found on the societys website and memberships may be obtained online or by telephone during office hours at 1-888-816-5902 (604 733-7705 in the Vancouver area.)

Archdeacon Robert Dr. MacRae, is the now-retired former rector of St. Johns Church, Victoria. The Memorial Society of BC is an independent non-profit society and is not connected to the Anglican Church of Canada or the diocese.