Not many people realise it, but anyone can conduct a funeral service. There are plenty of options available when you choose who should officiate your loved one’s funeral, depending on their religious beliefs and what you feel would be most fitting.
Traditionally, religious figures such as vicars or priests lead a funeral service, incorporating prayer and religious worship into the ceremony. For many religions there is a set order of service for funerals, or certain prayers and readings that are traditionally included.
If your loved one was religious, you may want to hold their funeral in their local place of worship and ask their religious leader to conduct the funeral. They will be able to help you plan the service and other aspects of the funeral, should you wish. Usually they will meet with the family and discuss the funeral, the person who has passed away, and any other spiritual needs as you say goodbye to your loved one.
Some religions will perform funeral services even if your loved one was not particularly religious, or did not attend worship very often. For example, the Church of England will lead a funeral service for anyone, regardless of their commitment to the Church.
Most religious leaders will also offer ongoing support after the funeral, which may not be the case with other types of celebrant. They often welcome bereaved family and friends to visit them again for spiritual guidance, advice or simply for company in difficult times.
You may choose to have a civil celebrant conduct the funeral. Civil celebrants are not part of any religion or belief system and can perform services with no religious content at all, or with some religious content such as prayers and readings.
Civil funerals usually focus on meeting the needs of the family and the person who has passed away, rather than sticking to prescribed religious ceremonies. In the same way that a religious leader would meet with the family to discuss arrangements, civil celebrants will meet with the bereaved and talk about the kind of ceremony they want.
Many people nowadays find that although they do not consider themselves religious, they still find some familiar prayers, hymns and readings comforting during difficult times. Civil celebrants can incorporate religious elements if you want, although they will not have the religious authority to perform blessings and rites.
Likewise, if you want a wholly non-religious funeral service, the civil celebrant will be able to do this. The emphasis is on what you and your family want from the funeral service.
Humanism, broadly speaking, is the belief in science as a means of understanding the universe and emphasises the importance of finding happiness in this life while also being kind and compassionate to others. Humanist funerals focus on the individual’s life, expressing sadness at the loss but also celebrating the life that has been lived.
Humanist funerals are growing in popularity and represent a completely non-religious service. Humanists do not believe in an afterlife or a god, so humanist services will not make reference to any religious ideas.
Humanist celebrants pride themselves on being compassionate and supportive and will meet with the family to discuss their loved one and any wishes they have for the service. Though they will not be open to any religious elements, they are very much open to personalising the service to reflect your loved one’s character.
A friend, family member or yourself
As mentioned, anyone can conduct a funeral, including you or another family member or friend. As long as you have a plan for the order of service and are comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, you should be able to lead the service.
The role of celebrant will require you to lead the order of service by speaking in front of the congregation. This may include reading prayers, a eulogy, poems or other readings, as well as inviting other people to speak. At the end you may invite the congregation to attend a wake.
Like a celebrant consults the family about their wishes, you should involve your loved one’s family and friends in planning the order of service. It could be a positive experience as you all come together to share memories and talk about your loved one.
Another option is splitting the role of celebrant between several family members. Sometimes siblings choose to do this in tribute to a parent. This may, however, take more organisation as you will need to work together to figure out who speaks when and how to divide up the responsibilities.