Alternative and non-religious funeral guide

Non-religious funerals are becoming an increasing choice, offering you and your loved ones complete control over the service, choices of song, readings and other tributes.

Led by a funeral celebrant not connected to any religion, they may be completely personalised to reflect the life lives and serve as a joyous celebration of life, a time to mourn, or a combination of both.

What is the difference between a Humanist and civil funeral?

Humanist funeral services are non-religious. Typically there would be no religious content within the service, although some celebrants may permit singing of a hymn.

Civil funeral services are completely tailored by the celebrant and while non-religious in nature, they can contain spiritual content like hymns or prayers where requested.

What is a humanist funeral?

A humanist funeral supports family and friends to mourn and celebrate the person who has died.

Typically completely devoid of religious or spiritual content (although sometimes a hymn may be permitted) they are led by a humanist celebrant, or by a family member or close friend of the deceased person.

A humanist funeral is normally held at a cemetery, woodland burial site or at a crematorium, although they can take place at any venue that is happy to host. Whilst the services have similarities to traditional religious funerals, with readings, music and speeches, these are non-religious in nature.

The humanist version of the religious eulogy is called the tribute, which is normally around 15 minutes in length and features tributes from friends and family.

A common Humanist order of service

The following will vary according to the minister and the family.

Welcome / Opening address

    This is designed to set the scene, explain the nature of a Humanist funeral and might include a quotation or reading. With a young person it may also give clearer direction on the Celebratory nature of the ceremony.

    About the Life of the Deceased Person

    This may include tributes from family and friends. This is also where the officiant would speak. It is conceived as a Eulogy, telling the life of the deceased person and always does this chronologically. Music may be included in this section, again as part of the chronology (e.g. a piece of music or song that has particular relevance). This section may account for about 80% of the duration of the ceremony.

    Quiet Reflection

    This is usually with music and an invitation for those who wish to offer prayers or to reflect on memories of the life lived.

    Committal

    In this context, Committal is used to refer to the closing of the curtains (or other separation from the coffin). This distinguishes it from a religious committal to a deity. Where the family do not wish for the curtains to be closed, the minister may offer a committal statement in its place.

    Epilogue

    This is designed to lighten the mood and lift the spirits of the mourners, it may include a reading chosen specifically for the family.

    What is a civil funeral?

    A civil funeral service is a ceremony that rather than focusing on religious beliefs, remembers a loved one by focusing on them and their life lived.

    As with humanist funerals they often take place at a cemetery, woodland burial site, or in the case of cremation, a crematorium and are led by a funeral celebrant or member of the loved one’s family and friends.

    A common civil order of service

    Typically, a civil order of service will be set out as follows:

    1. Entry music
    2. Welcome and opening words
    3. Poem or reading
    4. Music
    5. Eulogy
    6. Tributes

    Possibly interspersed with the Eulogy so that family and friends are introduced at the relevant point.

    There may at this point be a summing up of the deceased person; an introduction to the reflective piece of music inviting guests to consider their memories and may be a time for quiet prayer.

    • Poem or reading
    • Reflection music
    • Closing words
    • Committal
    • Uplifting note or quote
    • Exit music

    With thanks to Debby Elliot, Civil Celebrant

    What to wear to a non-religious funeral

    Unless requested otherwise by the family, funeral clothing is normally formal wear in dark colours.

    What happens after a non-religious funeral service

    A reception usually follows the funeral, either at the house of a member of the family or at a local hospitality venue.

    For more information, download our handy one-pager on alternative funerals.

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