Funeral Celebrants – A Helpful Guide

The what, who, why and where guide to funeral celebrants

What is a celebrant?

A celebrant is a person who officiates at formal life-event ceremonies.  For example, weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewals of vows or handfasting ceremonies, and at baby naming and adoption ceremonies.

Celebrants also officiate at end of life ceremonies, such as funerals, memorials, celebrations of life and the scattering or interment of ashes.

Who are celebrants?

Most celebrants are professionally trained and are members of recognised organisations.  Many have had other careers and bring extensive life experiences and skills gained elsewhere to their celebrancy role.

Why choose a celebrant?

Not every funeral needs to be religious, even if you have strong feelings about faith.  A celebrant isn’t connected to a specific religion, so although the service can have some religious or spiritual elements, there is more flexibility around the style and content of the service.

It’s up to you and your family to choose the type of funeral that feels appropriate.  The guidance of an experienced celebrant can help you to make this decision. For many people, using a funeral celebrant is an ideal choice and allows them to create a more tailored ceremony.

What does a celebrant do?

It is important to understand the role of a celebrant. A good funeral celebrant will spend time with the family, getting to know a bit about the life and character of the person who has died.  The focus will be on creating a service that meets the needs and wishes of the bereaved and that fully reflects the personality of their loved one.

As well as producing a script for the service, the celebrant may write and deliver the eulogy.  Celebrant Kirstie Atherton highlights the importance of listening and storytelling skills.  She explains how she ‘spends time with bereaved people listening to the stories of their loved one’s life and then crafting this information into a truly bespoke, personalised tribute‘.  

A celebrant can guide you in your choices and make suggestions for the way you’d like to commemorate someone’s life. It might be through readings, music, symbolic gestures, silent reflection or celebrant-led speeches. Emphasis may be on more of a ‘celebration of life’, with elements that reflect this, whether it’s the location, type of music, informality of the occasion or range of people present.  There are no rules and most celebrants are extremely flexible and will want to help you to create a service that enables you to say goodbye in a way that’s right for you.

As Katie Costello, Soul Midwife and Funeral Celebrant, says ‘celebrants bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, expertise and passion to the role and can not only guide you but will also liaise with other people or organisations involved in the service, such as florists, caterers and coffin makers‘.

The style and service offered will vary from celebrant to celebrant, so it’s worth looking at a few profiles and speaking to them before making your choice.

Humanist celebrants

Humanists offer their services as celebrants, but humanists are non-religious and non-spiritual. There’s no ‘faith’ element to their services at all. Songs or music may be included, but hymns and prayers wouldn’t be appropriate.

With a humanist helping you to remember the person who died, you’ll be focusing entirely on the person’s life and what they meant to other people. If your family hasn’t been at all religious, or you’re bridging the gap between many different faiths among your friends and family, then a humanist-led service might be a good choice.

How can I find a celebrant?

Recommendations from family, friends or others involved in organising the service are always a good place to start, or your funeral director may have local contacts.  If you have specific requirements, make sure that your funeral director knows this and ask questions that will help them to put you in touch with the right person. 

There are a number of organisations who ensure their members are approved as civil celebrants: the Institute of Civil Funerals, the Association of Independent Celebrants, the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants and  Humanists UK. whiteballoon has started a Celebrant directory and as this grows this will help you find providers in your area.

It’s important to find a celebrant that feels right for you.  Each will bring their own expertise, gifts and passion to the role and many have areas of particular interest or experience, for example, LGBT+ or ‘green’ funerals.

Where can you hold a civil funeral with a celebrant?

Traditionally, civil ceremonies were conducted in the chapel of a crematorium, and many still are. But times are changing and now services can be held almost anywhere.  A civil funeral service can take place at any venue that is happy to offer you their location.

This might be at a natural or woodland burial site, a burial mound or at a crematorium. Or talk to hotels, restaurants, village halls, community centres, even organisations that open listed buildings.  The service could be held at home, in a private garden or any other place that holds special meaning.  Where you hold the service will depend on whether you would like it to be a part of a burial or cremation or whether it is separate to that.

Your celebrant will be able to tell you about suitable locations in your area and whiteballoon has lots of ideas and Inspiration for funeral locations, with links to many of them in the Funeral Locations Providers.

Can a celebrant hold a service in a church?

It wouldn’t be appropriate to hold a non-religious service in a place of faith worship. However, the Church of England says that anyone can have a Church of England funeral – even with non-religious poems or songs – and you don’t need to have been to church yourself.

More information about planning a funeral and types of funeral service.

You can find more information about Burial or CremationTypes of Funeral Service and Planning a Funeral in our information pages.  Or use our helpful Planning a Funeral Checklist.

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