How weddings are giving funeral homes new life

More couples are choosing non-religious sites for weddings as church membership continues to decline, but more people are living longer, which leaves funeral homes open. Many couples are booking them for weddings.

The idea of getting married in a funeral home seems less bizarre when the line "til death do us part," used in the traditional wedding ceremony, is considered.

In Indianapolis, one couple recently married at the Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Center, which boasts a sign on the outskirts of Indianapolis near 70,000 graves and where on any given day, somber pallbearers can be seen loading a casket into a black hearse, CBS News' Mark Albert reports.

Raechel Pippen's wedding day at Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Center conjures up anything but sorrow. Guests that stood outside for the wedding dressed in their Sunday best were not to be mistaken for mourners.

Reachal Pippin and Mike McCullough were recently married at the Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Center which boasts a sign on the outskirts of Indianapolis near 70,000 graves where on any given day, somber pallbearers can be seen loading a casket into a black hearse
Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Home

The music and laughter of a bride getting ready for a wedding could be heard outside, and the sounds conjured up anything but sorrow.

When Pippen saw the venue -- the fountain, the marble floors and the soaring rotunda with a chandelier -- she said she laid to rest her childhood dream of being married in a church.

"The chandelier sold me," she said. The headstones didn't scare her away at all.

Pippen is a nurse just like her mom before her, and neither of them gets squeamish around the dead.

"We love it. Whatever my daughter wanted is fine," Pippen's mother said.

More couples like Pippen and groom Mike McCullough are looking for less formal, more memorable, and cheaper options to say "I do."

A survey published in 2014 by The Wedding Report found nearly 40 percent of couples spent under $10,000 on their wedding last year, less than half the average cost of $26,000.

At the same time, church membership is declining, with nearly one out of every four people now saying they're unaffiliated with any religion -- a 40 percent change since 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.

That gives funeral homes a huge opening.

They need the help. Fewer people are dying with the death rate at a historic low and life expectancy rising. Also, the cost of a funeral is up 29 percent in the past decade, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

The study also found that the number of funeral homes building community centers has grown by two-thirds.

Bruce Buchanan, the fourth generation of his family in the funeral business, said he didn't want to write his own epitaph.

"A lot of funeral directors want to keep things the way they were, and the public wants something different," he said.

Buchanan's partners opened a $10 million "community life center," and they soon built two more nearby.

Events other than funerals are now 20 percent of their business.

This year, they've hosted 120 "non-traditional" events, including two high school proms, quinceaneras, business meetings, breakfast with Santa and 60 weddings, which can cost less than half of a traditional venue.

"We are getting weddings on all of the key weekends throughout the year," Buchanan said.

If someone were to call to book a wedding next weekend, he would say, "We're booked. And don't ask for next June. I'm pretty sure we're booked. It's worked out very well."

On the dance floor of a wedding today, there could be an urn or a casket for a funeral home tomorrow, but that doesn't bother the guests, Buchanan said.

Asked if they initially thought getting married in a funeral home was a crazy idea, Pippen's bridesmaids said, "Yes." But after some initial doubt, the bridesmaids were sold.

They even said they would consider getting married in a funeral home, saying that the location makes it something people would remember forever.

"It does go to show that it didn't matter where you are. You're with who you want to be with for the rest of your life and your family. It doesn't matter," Pippen said.

On the groom's side, the McCulloughs invited 211 guests, but they were not sure how many souls actually showed up.

At a funeral home, of course, no one can never be quite sure who shows up. And just in case, the bride and groom lit a candle for the dearly departed.

At least one angel did show up.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife," said Angel Bodenhamer, the reverend.

Asked what she thought about being a reverend named Angel who performed a wedding at a funeral home, she said, "I personally think that we've gotten away from it. I grew up in a very rural town here in Indiana, and everything happened at our church, the funerals, the parties, the weddings. Everything happened there."

Regardless, vows only promise "until death do us part."

But that may not be long enough for funeral homes, which are hoping you'll decide love really is forever.