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01 November 2013

The overtaking undertaker

The overtaking undertaker

It's not every day you see a minister riding a motorbike with a coffin in the sidecar. Rev Paul Sinclair, aka the 'faster pastor', has been in the motorcycle funeral business since 2002, specialising in unique and personal goodbyes. He shares with Lucy Cooper why it's not just transport, it is a journey...

"At most funerals when the hearse arrives, people step back. At my funerals they step forward, smile and take a closer look, maybe take a photo and start to reminisce,"says Paul. "It is not just a vehicle to get to the crematorium, it's a vehicle to help people get through bereavement. We incorporate character, because it is not purely about what the person believed, it's about who they were. Saying goodbye involves each element of the process."

Holding the Guinness World Record for the fastest hearse, Rev Sinclair's sidecar hearse is the first of its kind and a mini fleet transports 400 coffins a year. Families are able to celebrate the life of their loved one and provide them a chance for one last blast.

Paul tells of how he hears people comment on how traveling to the crematorium behind their loved one in a slow-moving hearse is a harrowing experience. "I like to make it more positive. Did the deceased like to go quick? Yes, well let's go fast. Did they love countryside? Well let's go for a spin in the country en route.

"Often I will stop a number of times so family can take a turn to sit pillion (behind me on the bike) beside their loved one. It is the only way you can sit beside them, enabling family to have a special goodbye trip."

As a former church leader in London, Paul became known for his motorbike and his first inspiration for the business began when he took funerals for local bikers. "It genuinely bothered me that the last time they were seen was in the back of a car and not on a bike. The final journey didn't seem appropriate. No one took my idea seriously, so I put it on hold," said Paul.

It was only after a brush with death himself in a motorbike accident that he dug out the concept again. Paul and his now wife, Marian, were both severely injured in the collision but creative juices began to flow for Paul. "That was nearly me taken off in the coffin – that hit home! In that recovery period I worked on my sidecar hearse designs and decided that I was going to make it happen." 

Paul insists that rather than deviating from tradition, personalising funerals is actually returning to a traditional way. "For centuries it would be appropriately dignified to have unique and personal funerals.However, after the war everyone got the same car, same service – all exactly the same. Our way is back to the way it used to be. We celebrate the life and preferences of the deceased.

"If you are a Scot who loved bagpipes you wouldn't expect Morris dancers. It is the same with this. People should have options and an appropriate send-off."

Funerals for children and babies use the motorcycle hearse due to its size and "you will be very hard pressed to find a child that doesn't like sidecars", says Paul, "but children's funerals are very difficult – they really affect you emotionally, so I'm careful that we share those duties among the team".

Motorcycle funeral clients are not just bikers, but also people you least expect, for example old ladies who were despatch riders during the war. 

Paul may joke about how he can "get you to the crematorium quicker than anyone else or your money back" or how he's an"overtaker rather than an undertaker", but he takes his business seriously, priding himself on a highly professional service.

He is also making people feel at ease at a difficult time. "What I do opens doors. Everywhere I go people talk to me – it fascinates them. I'm able to share how God uses my ministry and what God is doing," he says.

"My job is very pastoral. I chat with people and I am genuinely helping folk in their bereavement journey. Even though I am officially a Rev, credibility and character are more important than credentials."

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