Civil Funerals

What is a Civil Funeral?

A civil funeral is a non-religious (or secular) service which enables loved ones to say goodbye and to celebrate the life of the person who has died without adhering to specific religious practices or beliefs.

These ceremonies prioritise the commemoration of the person, allowing friends to come together and share memories, achievements, and to talk about and celebrate the impact their loved one had on their lives.

Civil funerals allow for greater freedom to choose the content, style and location of the occasion, enabling it to fully reflect the person it is remembering and honouring.

Understanding the Distinctions: Civil vs Religious Funeral

Civil funerals differ from religious ones in several meaningful ways:

  • Absence of prayers or religious readings: civil funerals tend not to include prayers or religious readings and focus instead on respecting and reflecting the beliefs and values of the deceased and their loved ones.
  • Celebrants specialised in crafting secular ceremonies: anyone can conduct a civil funeral, but many people choose to enlist the help of a civil funeral celebrant; a person qualified to officiate (or conduct) the service. A funeral celebrant can also help with planning and organising the ceremony, offering advice and support to the bereaved. Celebrants collaborate closely with the family to understand the life and personality of the deceased, using these insights to craft a personalised ceremony that aligns with their beliefs and values.
  • Emphasis on individuality, inclusivity, and personal beliefs: civil funerals place an emphasis on individuality, inclusivity, and personal beliefs. These ceremonies strive to create an authentic representation of the individual, allowing friends to share stories, memories, and anecdotes about their loved one. This approach embraces diversity, welcoming people from all faiths, and no faith, to participate.
  • Flexibility in choice of location or venue: the service can be held in a variety of settings, for example, a natural burial ground, crematorium, at home, or even at a restaurant or pub. It cannot take place in a church or other religious building. 

Planning a Civil Funeral Service

A civil funeral service can include many of the familiar elements of a traditional funeral service. Here are some of the things to consider:

  • Selecting a suitable venue: choose a funeral location that reflects the personality and wishes of the deceased. This may be at a natural burial ground, a crematorium, or other location where funerals are usually held. Or it may be at home, in a park, at a local community centre, or at another suitable venue, such as a restaurant or club. Consider the person’s interests, hobbies, or places they cherished.
  • Collaborating with family and friends: involve family members and close friends in the planning process. Collaborate to create a ceremony that genuinely celebrates the life of your loved one.
  • Incorporating meaningful elements: consider including elements such as music, readings, poetry and personal anecdotes into the service. Select songs that held significance or carry special meaning for family members. Share stories and memories during the ceremony.
  • Personalising the service: make the funeral service unique and individual by highlighting aspects of the person’s life. Display photographs, mementos, or items representing their passions and achievements. Show a video compilation, perhaps set to music, or include other Personal Touches.
  • Considering cultural and religious traditions: while civil funerals are generally non-religious, it is important to acknowledge any cultural or religious traditions that were significant to the person you are remembering.
  • Length of Service: this will depend on a number of factors, such as where it is held, the number of readings, tributes, songs, etc. Most services are between 30 and 90 minutes long.
  • Dress code: this is a matter of personal choice for those closest to the deceased. Or the person who has died may have specified their wishes. The dress code might be traditional, sombre colours, or something less formal and more colourful.

For further guidance and detailed information, you may find it helpful to go to whiteballoon’s Planning a Funeral information and free, printable Checklist.

The Role of Officiants in Civil Funerals

Funeral celebrants, also known as civil celebrants, can play a vital role in the creation and smooth running of the service. Their responsibilities include:

  • Understanding the family’s wishes: officiants meet with family members and close friends to gather details about the deceased’s life, interests, accomplishments and values. This information helps them to create a personalised ceremony.
  • Guiding attendees through each stage: officiants guide attendees through the service, welcoming them, providing words of comfort, and sharing stories about the deceased’s life.
  • Creating a meaningful ceremony: they can help the family to select readings, poems and music for the service, and to incorporate rituals or symbolic gestures that hold significance. They can also help with other elements such as flowers, transport or funeral stationery.
  • Providing emotional support: in addition to leading the ceremony itself, celebrants offer emotional support to grieving family members and friends. They can provide comfort and guidance throughout the process.
  • Collaborating with the funeral director: celebrants work closely with funeral directors to coordinate logistics, timing, location and other arrangements to ensure a seamless service for all involved.

To find out more, please go to whiteballoon’s information on The Role of a Celebrant.

How whiteballoon Can Help

Our Inspiration pages and Provider Directory can enable you to find the people and services that will help you to create a ceremony that is right for you and for those you love.

The whiteballoon free Planning Tools, including a personalised Ideas Folder, allow you to gather and share ideas and information.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about civil funerals, the following sites have extensive guidance, support and advice:

Institute of Civil Funerals
The Natural Death Centre

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