A brief summary of religious & non-religious services & ceremonies

 

The ceremony you choose will depend on the wishes and beliefs of the person who has died, or of those closest to them. Some people will take comfort in the traditions and rituals of their faith, others may want a non-religious ceremony that perhaps allows for greater flexibility in location and content.

Many services are centred around burial or cremation of the body, although this does not have to be the case.

This section provides information on the options available and links you through to sites that can provide more detail if required. Please note that the following is not intended to prescribe or advise, but will, we hope, provide relevant context and information.

WHY DO WE HAVE FUNERALS SERVICES AND CEREMONIES?

First, it is helpful to briefly consider the roles and functions of a funeral and the service and ceremonies surrounding it.

On one level, it is about choosing a final resting place for the person who has died.

Alongside this there may be traditions and practices dictated by faith or religion. Whether they are religious or non-religious, the ceremonies attached to death have a number of purposes; they bring the bereaved and grieving together to comfort and support each other; they acknowledge the enormity of the loss and the hole that the person's death has left in the lives of their loved ones; they are a chance to celebrate the life of that person, acknowledge the way they touched others, recognise their achievements, the very fact of their existence; they are a chance to say goodbye.

Have these things in mind and think about how the person who has died might want to be remembered; the place, style and content of a service or celebration that would best reflect their life and personality, and how to bring together all the people who mattered most to them.

With the increase in demand for cremation, there are now a number of options available, for example:

    • a traditional funeral service at a place of worship followed by a burial;
    • a traditional funeral service at a place of worship followed by cremation;
    • a service at a crematorium, often conducted by a Celebrant, with the body present;
    • 'direct cremation', followed by a celebration of life or memorial service, either on the same day or at a later date;
    • 'direct burial', followed by a celebration of life or memorial service on the same day or at a later date;
    • or a small, private family burial or cremation followed by a larger memorial service at a later date.

A FUNERAL

A funeral is a service with the body of the deceased present (although the term 'funeral' is often used loosely to describe all types of ceremony).

Religious funerals tend to be rooted in tradition and follow an order determined by faith or custom, which can bring great comfort to those involved. However this does not mean that they cannot be personalised to reflect the life and character of the person who has died.

Non-religious funerals, for example humanist or civil funerals, can allow for greater freedom to choose the content, style and location of the occasion.

For more information, please see Planning a Funeral.

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE

A celebration of life can be similar to a funeral, although the focus is slightly different. It is often a more relaxed and less structured service which may or may not include elements from a traditional funeral service, and the body may or may not be present. The focus tends to be on capturing the essence of, and celebrating the life of, the person who has died.

Increasingly people are choosing a small, private funeral with a burial, cremation or direct cremation, allowing close family and friends to grieve quietly. This can then be followed by a larger gathering at a later date, such as a celebration of life or memorial service, which can take place whenever and wherever they like. As with a memorial service, although the body may not be present, some people choose to have an urn, video or photographs as a focus for the ceremony.

A MEMORIAL SERVICE

A memorial service often takes place some time after a person has died. Although the body is not present, some people choose to have an urn or photographs as a focus for the ceremony. It may include a wider circle of family, friends and colleagues. A memorial service can be very simliar to a celebration of life, although it tends to have slightly more structure, often including religious elements, a eulogy, prayers, readings, songs and time for reflection.

For more information, please see Planning a Memorial Service.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

When thinking about which would be most suitable, these are some of the things to consider:

    • did the person specify whether they wanted to be buried or cremated. Or did they want another option, for example to leave their body to science? See Burial or Cremation and Types of Funeral Service for more information.
    • where would they like to be buried or cremated and what should happen to their ashes?
    • where should the service take place? In a place of worship or would they like a non-religious funeral? For more information, see Types of Funeral Service and Burial or Cremation.
    • what will the 'feel' of the service be: a joyful celebration of life; a small, sombre service; a formal, traditional occasion?
    • will there be a gathering (a wake or reception) after the service and where will this take place? At a family home, a favourite pub, a village hall, or perhaps no gathering at all?
    • how many people do you expect to attend?

HOW WHITEBALLOON CAN HELP

Our Planning a Funeral checklist can be printed out as a reminder of things you may want to include.

You can find ideas and inspiration throughout whiteballoon, including in our sector Inspiration Pages and Inspiration Wall.

Any items that you like, or that resonate with you (for example, poems, readings, prayers, flowers, coffins, personal touches), can he 'hearted' and saved to a personalised Ideas Folder. This can be printed out or shared as necessary with family, friends or the funeral director.

 

Civil funerals are non-religious, although they may have some religious elements such as hymns or prayers. They 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.

The service can be held in a variety of settings, for example at a natural burial ground or in a crematorium, but cannot take place in a church or religious building. 

Anyone can conduct a civil funeral, but many people choose to enlist the help of a civil celebrant; a person qualified to officiate the service. A celebrant can also help with planning and organising the ceremony, offering advice and support to the bereaved.

For more information, please go to:

Institute of Civil Funerals
The Natural Death Centre

 

What to wear

Civil ceremonies can be held in a variety of locations and some will be more somber and formal than others. If a dress code has not been specified, wear smart clothing in muted colours. 

 

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for donations to be made to a chosen charity in lieu of flowers. 

 

 

It is possible, and increasingly popular, for funerals services to take place at home. This might be a ceremony of remembrance or celebration of life after a committal elsewhere, or it might be a service with a burial. Home funerals give the bereaved the opportunity to create a unique and more informal service that reflects and honours the person they are remembering.  

There is no legal requirement to appoint a Funeral Director, but most people do so because there is so much to organise in a relatively short space of time. Also, many people find the idea of dealing with the very important practicalities (legal requirements, paperwork, etc) rather daunting. It is possible to find funeral directors who will take care of some aspects (storing the body, etc), leaving family or friends to focus on organising the parts of the occasion that they wish to. There is no need for the ground to be consecrated.

There are a number of statutory requirements for home burials. The death still needs to be registered with the local Registrar of Births and Deaths, for which a Doctor’s Medical Certificate of Death is required. It is also advisable to contact the local council's Environmental Health Department as they will need to check that there is no risk to public health from the burial.

If you are the owner of the land, you will need to check the deeds in case there is a restrictive covenant preventing the burial of human remains. If the property is mortgaged, the owner also needs to check the contract in case it is necessary to get the lender’s permission.

The burial will only require planning permission if there is going to be a permanent memorial or if the burial site constitutes a change of use (for example, if there are going to be a number of graves on the land).

For more information, please go to:

Home Funeral Network

The Natural Death Centre

Humanists UK

Institute of Civil Funerals

 

What to wear

Home funerals tend to be less formal than traditional services. Be guided by the deceased's wishes or the wishes of their family.

The Bahá'í Faith began in Persia in the mid-19C. It is now the second most widespread religion after Christianity, with Bahá'ís in over 200 countries. The Founder, Bahá'u'lláh (meaning 'The Glory of God') is regarded by Bahá'ís as the Messenger of God for this Age. He taught that there is only one God, one religion and that humanity is one. Bahá'ís believe that God progressively reveals Himself to humanity through various Messengers. All the major religions are regarded as coming from the same source, in their essence espousing the same human virtues, but with social teachings tailored to the age in which they appear.

The Bahá'í Faith has no clergy and its affairs are in the hands of elected administrative bodies known as 'Spiritual Assemblies'. Smaller communities without established Assemblies are known as Bahá'í Groups.

 

Preparing the body

Bahá'ís believe in life after death and that the soul continues to progress after the body dies. The body should be treated with the greatest respect as it was the temple of the soul during this life.

The body is washed in water (sometimes with the addition of rose-water) and wrapped in a shroud of five sheets, or lengths, of white silk or cotton. Traditionally, close family undertake this task.

A burial ring may be placed on the forefinger of Bahá'ís aged fifteen or over. This states (in Arabic) 'I came forth from God, and returned unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate'.

If possible, the coffin should be made of hard, fine wood or other durable substance.

Bahá’í Law states that the body should be interred as close as reasonably possible to the place where it surrendered its soul, and at most within one hour's travelling time from that place, regardless of the means of transport.

Burial should take place as soon as possible. If there is a Bahá’í cemetary within range, this would be preferable, but otherwise any cemetery is acceptable. Although not obligatory for Western believers, the body may be buried with its feet pointing towards the Akka (the Qiblih), Bahá’u’lláh’s Own Resting-Place.

 

The funeral service

The one ceremonial requirement under Bahá’í Law for believers over the age of fifteen is the recitation of the Prayer for the Dead (No. CLXVII in Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh). This should be recited at the graveside by one believer whilst everyone else present stands. The funeral should be simple and dignified, but beyond this it is up to the family to arrange it and choose other elements, such who conducts it (there is no clergy in the Bahá’í faith) and whether to have additional prayers. Non-Bahá’í family can be consulted and encouraged to participate. Readings and prayers from other scriptures may be included if they so wish.  Each funeral is unique and is seen as an opportunity to reflect the deceased’s commitment to God and to comfort and educate those left behind.  

After the funeral

To honour the deceased, and in accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings that ‘gifts and good deeds done in memory of those how have passed on, are most helpful to the development of their souls in the realms beyond…’, good deeds can be done in their name.

Future memorial gatherings may be held if family and friends wish to do so.

The emblem of a nine-pointed star with the word “Bahá’í” within it may be engraved on the gravestone but neither the ringstone emblem nor the ‘Greatest Name’ should appear. 

What to wear

Bahá’ís may wear anything from casual attire to formal wear to a funeral. Others should dress respectfully according to their culture.

Acceptable practices

Bahá'ís believe that after death the soul no longer has a connection to the body, so organ donation is permitted.

Cremation is not permitted. This applies to stillbirths and neonates too.

Embalming, unless required by law, should be avoided, to allow the natural process of decomposition.

For further information or to find a local Assembly or Group, please contact the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahái'ís of United Kingdom:

UK Bahá'í

 

The Baptist Church is part of the world wide Christian Church. Local churches are self-governing and self-supporting and the emphasis is very much on creating a community or family of believers who worship together and support one another.

The funeral service

A Baptist funeral has all the elements of a traditional Christian funeral. The funeral service can take place in the local Baptist church, but the burial or cremation usually takes place at the local cemetery or crematorium because most Baptist churches do not have their own burial grounds.

After the funeral

After the service, it is usual for family and friends to gather together, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. This is an opportunity for mourners to support to each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

Sometimes, if it is a small, private funeral, a memorial service will take place at a later date for wider family and friends.

What to wear

It is no longer obligatory to wear black to funerals but, unless the family specify otherwise, smart clothing in subdued colours is expected.

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for charitable donations to be made to the deceased’s chosen charity, in lieu of flowers. There may be a collection for the charity during the funeral service or it can be made independently by attendees.

Otherwise, floral tributes can be sent to the funeral director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

Acceptable practices

Burial, cremation, embalming and donation of the body to medical science are all acceptable.

 

For more information, please see:

The Baptist Union of Great Britain

Find a Church UK

There are a number of Buddhists traditions, but most Buddhists believe that life and death are part of a cycle known as samsara, where death marks the transition from this life to rebirth into the next. One’s actions in this life and all previous incarnations determine the next reincarnation. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to get enlightenment (Nirvana) and be free of endless reincarnation and suffering (Dukkha). So, dying is seen as a natural and inevitable part of the life cycle. 

Preparing the body

The Last Rites of Amitibha states that the body of the deceased should not be touched or moved for a period of time (some suggest four hours) after breathing stops to give the soul time to leave the body.

After a number of hours, once the body is completely cold, it can be washed and prepared for burial or cremation. The deceased is dressed in everyday clothes.

According to a tradition set at Buddha’s death, most Buddhists are cremated, but some traditions accept burial. Since it is thought that consciousness continues for several days after the body dies, many Buddhist traditions state that there should be an interval of at least three-and-a-half days before the body is subject to autopsy, cremation or burial.

The funeral service

There is no single funeral service or ritual common to all Buddhists. If the deceased is connected to a particular local group or community (eg Zen, Theravada, Tibetan), they may be able to provide guidance.

A wake may be held, with a simple, open casket. An alter can be placed near the casket and may feature an image of the deceased, of Buddha, candles, flowers, fruit and incense. Chanting, performed by monks, laypeople, or pre-recorded, may take place during the wake.  The wake may last for as long as the family wishes.

The funeral can be a funeral service before burial or before cremation, or a memorial service after cremation. The service and surrounding events should be simple, solemn and dignified. The casket or cremated remains are placed at the front of the room with an alter (similar to that at the wake) nearby. When entering, mourners are expected to approach the casket or remains, bow with their hands pressed together in a pose of prayer, pause for a moment then take their seat. Buddhist rites are performed by monks. Sermons and eulogies are delivered by monks and mourners or other members of the Buddhist community, followed by chanting. The monks should occupy the highest seats and all present should stand when the monks stand. If cremation has not yet taken place, the casket is then transported to the crematorium with mourners following behind in a procession.

For some, religious memorial services are traditionally held on the third, seventh, forty-ninth and one-hundredth day after the death. These services may be small, private affairs or extended to the larger community. They can be held at home or at a monastery. ‘Dana’, an act which purifies the mind of the giver and allows for blessings to be given to the Sangha (‘community’) and subsequently transferred to the deceased, will be performed.

What to wear

The family will usually wear white to symbolize their grief. Other mourners should do the same, or dress in sombre, muted colours.

Acceptable practices

Burial and cremation are both acceptable.

Organ donation and donating the body to medical research are both acceptable.

Embalming should be avoided where possible but is acceptable in some traditions.

For more information, please see:

The Buddhist Society

The Church of England is the established church in England. Belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the heart of the faith of its followers. Christians believe that after death the soul lives on and, for believers, it will join with God in Heaven. A Church of England funeral marks the close of a human life on earth and the commendation of the soul into God’s keeping.

The funeral service

A Church of England-led funeral is available to everyone. Church of England funeral services can take place in a church, crematorium, green burial site, cemetery or funeral director’s chapel. There are three alternative services (see below) and these can be personalised through choice of music, hymns, etc, to reflect the life and personality of the person you are remembering.

The three types of service are:

Traditional – taken from the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The service in the church is followed by (although not always immediately) the committal at the graveside or in the crematorium chapel. This service is not always offered by clergy these days.

Modern – taken from Common Worship, the series of services authorised by the General Synod of the Church of England in 2000. 

Traditional/Modern Hybrid – the ‘Series One Alternative Service’ (1966), which mixes the traditional with the modern. This service is usually offered for those wanting a traditional service.

The service will include the gathering, readings, the sermon, prayers, commendation and farewell and then the committal and dismissal. The tone and feel of the service will vary depending on the personality, age and circumstances of the person who has died, with sadness and loss perhaps intermingled with feelings of gratitude and joy.

After the funeral

After the service, it is usual for family and friends to gather together, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. This is an opportunity for mourners to support each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

Sometimes, if it is a small, private funeral, a memorial service will take place at a later date for wider family and friends.

What to wear

It is no longer obligatory to wear black to funerals but, unless the family specify otherwise, smart clothing in subdued colours is expected.

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for charitable donations to be made to the deceased’s chosen charity, in lieu of flowers. There may be a collection for the charity during the funeral service or it can be made independently by attendees.

Otherwise, floral tributes can be sent to the Funeral Director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

Acceptable practices

Burial, cremation, embalming and donation of the body to medical science are all acceptable.

 

For more information, please see:

Church of England Funerals

Find a Church UK

 

The Church of Scotland is the largest Protestant church in Scotland. Its governing system is Presbyterian, which means that no one person or group within the church has more influence or say than any other.

Because it is a National church, anyone who lives in the Parish or who has a family connection to the parish can ask for a funeral service.

The funeral service

Recommendations for the order of service for a funeral can be found in The Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order 1964. 

A service can take place in a church, crematorium chapel or other suitable venue. There is no set form and the wishes of the deceased and their family can often be accommodated. The service may include readings from the bible, psalms, prayers and hymns. The Minister will give a sermon and family and friends will pay tribute to the deceased. The service ends with the commendation and farewell, in which the deceased is commended to God.

The committal can take place at the graveside, in the crematorium, or sometimes in the church before the body is taken to the crematorium.

After the funeral

It is usual to gather family and friends together after the service, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. This an opportunity for mourners to support to each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

Sometimes, if it is a small, private funeral, a memorial service for wider family and friends will take place at a later date.

What to wear

Unless the family specify otherwise, formal clothing in subdued colours are usually worn.

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for charitable donations to be made to the deceased’s chosen charity, in lieu of flowers. There may be a collection for the charity during the funeral service or it can be made independently by attendees. The Church has drafted a style of undertaking which it recommends that funeral directors should be required to sign. This document can be accessed on the Church’s website.

Otherwise, floral tributes can be sent to the Funeral Director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

Acceptable practices

Burial, cremation, embalming and donating the body to science are all acceptable.

 

For further information, please see:

Church of Scotland

Find a Church UK

 

Within Hinduism there are a number of sects, subsects and regional variations with differing beliefs.

Hindus believe in reincarnation and that life and death are part of a continuous cycle in which the soul is repeatedly reborn according to the law of action and reaction (Samsara). At death, the soul moves to a new physical body, which can be in human or non-human form (an animal or divine being). 

The ultimate goal for many Hindus is to become free from desire, thereby attaining moksha, the transcendent state of salvation. Once moksha is attained, the soul will be absorbed into Brahman, the divine force and ultimate reality.

Preparing the body

After death, the person who has died should only be touched when absolutely necessary, as this is considered to be a symbol of great impurity. Traditionally, family members or close friends wash the body. If this is not possible, the funeral home will attend to this ritual.  Since cremation takes place soon after death, the viewing is usually brief. 

The person who has died will be displayed in a simple casket, dressed in new white clothes or, if the deceased is a married woman or a young unmarried girl, she will be dressed in red or yellow. A lamp is placed by the head of the body and flowers placed at its feet. Holy basil is sprinkled in the casket and a garland of flowers or a necklace of wooden beads (mala) is draped around the neck. If the person is male, ash wood or sandalwood may be placed on their forehead.  Turmeric is used if they are female. Sometimes rice balls (pindas) are placed in the coffin. Mantras and hymns are recited by family and friends.

The funeral service

Most adult Hindus (except for Saints) are cremated as it is believed that this will help their soul escape quickly from the body. Traditionally, the cremation would take place by the Ganges River in India. With Hindus now living all over the world, it is accepted that cremation can take place locally. Many crematoria can accommodate the traditions and rituals of a Hindu cremation. The casket is carried into the crematorium feet first, while mourners recite prayers. Mourners stay until the cremation is complete.

Traditionally, the funeral should take place by the next dusk or dawn. This is not always possible outside India, but it should be held as soon as arrangements allow. Funerals are usually conducted by a priest, assisted by the eldest son of the deceased or their closest male relative (the chief mourner). The priest will chant Holy Mantras (scriptures). The chief mourner will light the crematorium pyre and will circle the body, praying for the deceased person’s soul.

After the funeral

On the day following a Hindu funeral the ashes are immersed in a sacred river. Traditionally, this would be the Ganges. Some choose to repatriate their loved one’s ashes so that this can still take place, however there are many rivers and places throughout the world that are now considered to be acceptable alternatives.

Typically, the bereaved mourn for 12 days and on the 13th day the samskara ends with the ritual of Kriya. During this time, it is customary for families to have a picture of their loved one displayed in the house, adorned with garlands and flowers. Visitors are welcomed and a ritual that helps the soul reincarnate is performed. 

On the anniversary of the death, the family hold a memorial event that honours their loved one’s life (Shraddha) and food, such as pindas, is offered to the poor and needy in memory of departed ancestors.

What to wear

Mourners should wear white casual clothing to the viewing and service.

Acceptable practices

Traditionally, bodies are cremated. 

Organ donation is acceptable. 

Embalming is acceptable (although usually not necessary because the funeral takes place straight away).

Humanists believe that this life is the only life we have. In the absence of an afterlife, happiness, fulfilment and purpose come from living a moral and socially responsible life by putting the welfare and ethical treatment of all living creatures, particularly human beings, at the centre of decision making. Death, then, is the end to a person's existence and the funeral is a final goodbye.

The funeral service

Humanist services are non-religious, allowing for a greater degree of flexibility and personalisation. Ceremonies are often conducted by a celebrant (also known as an ‘officiant’ or ‘humanist minister’), although anyone can take a funeral. As well as conducting the ceremony, a celebrant will assisting in creating and writing it, helping with ideas on music selection and readings, giving advice on practical matters and helping you create a unique and personal occasion that will reflect your loved one’s life and personality.

Most humanist funerals are held in crematoria, cemeteries or woodland burial sites, although they can be held in other locations (for example, at home). Each ceremony is unique but will usually include music, words of welcome and wisdom,

After the funeral

There is no set format for what happens after the funeral. Often there will be a gathering at home or a local venue where refreshments are served, but you can do whatever feels right for you and the person you have lost. Alternatively, a memorial service may be held at a later date.

What to wear

Humanist funerals tend to be less formal than religious services. There are no set requirements about what to wear, so mourners should be guided by the wishes of the family. 

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for mourners to make a donation to a chosen charity, in lieu of sending flowers.

Acceptable practices

Burial, cremation and donation of the body to science are all acceptable. 

There are often strict rules around burials in natural burial grounds, so check with your chosen site before embalming takes place.

For more information, click here:

Humanists UK
The Natural Death Centre

Jehovah’s Witnesses are so called because of their desire to honour Jehovah, the God of the Bible and the Creator of all things, and their aim to help people learn about the Bible and God’s Kingdom. Ethnically diverse and spread around the globe, they are united by common goals. Jehovah’s Witness is a Christian-based faith and their funerals are similar to other Christian faiths.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that death is final; there is no immortal soul that lives on. However, based on Bible scriptures, they believe that there is the potential for resurrection, when death will be no more. So death is a time for sadness, modesty and empathy, not extreme mourning.

The funeral service

The Jehovah’s Witness funeral service takes place in their place of worship, Kingdom Hall, or at a crematorium or cemetery. The Congregation Elder gives a talk explaining what the bible says about death and perhaps highlights the good qualities of the person who died. During the service a song based on scriptures may be sung and it may conclude with a comforting prayer.

What to wear

It is customary to wear sombre clothes in dark colours.

Acceptable practices

Burial and Cremation are acceptable.

Whilst Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow blood transfusions, organ donation is acceptable to most as long as all blood is removed from organs and tissues before donation.

For more information, please see:

Jehovah's Witness Organisation

Orthodox (traditional) and Reform (modern) Jewish funeral practices vary.   

The funeral is usually organised with the help of the Rabbi (religious leader).

Preparing the body

In some areas there will be a sacred burial society (“Chevra Kaddisha”), which will prepare the body. Men prepare men and women prepare women. The body will be cleaned (taking care never to place it face down) and wrapped in a white shroud (tachrichim). It will then be laid in a simple, pine coffin made entirely from wood with no decorations or embellishments. Men may be buried with their prayer shawls (‘tallit’) with one of the fringes cut, and with their religious skullcap (‘Kippah’ or ‘yarmulke’).

From the moment of death, the body is not left alone. A guardian (Shomer), usually a relative, friend or member of their congregation, will sit with the deceased and recite psalms.

The funeral service

According to Jewish law, the funeral takes place as soon as possible after death, ideally within 24 hours. In cases where this is not possible (for example if mourners are coming from abroad or if there is no time before Shabbat or a holy day) there may be a short delay.

Orthodox Jews must be buried. Embalming and viewing of the body are forbidden, but some Reform rabbis will officiate at funerals involving cremation.

The funeral is planned with the help of the Rabbi and, if there is one, the “Hevra Kadisha” (a holy society which supervises funerals). Most ceremonies take place in a synagogue or at the graveside.

Jewish funerals are quiet, simple, solemn occasions (with no music or flowers). Psalms and the memorial prayer (“Kel Malei Rahamim”) are recited and a eulogy delivered. At the beginning of an Orthodox funeral, close relatives of the deceased tear their clothes (or the Rabbi may do this for them) as a symbol of their loss. At a Reform funeral it is more usual for a Rabbi to tear a black ribbon for each close family member to wear.  

The casket is then carried or wheeled out, followed by the principal mourners, whilst the rest of the attendees remain standing until they have left the room.

At the cemetery, it is customary for pallbearers to stop seven times to recite Psalm 91.  The burial takes place and the “Mourner’s Kaddish” is recited.  Earth is scattered on the coffin by each family member and close friends, either by hand of with the back of a shovel.

After the funeral

After the internment, there may be a reception at the synagogue or family home. Friends prepare a meal, traditionally including eggs. Then a mourning period (“Shiva”, meaning seven) is observed at the home of the deceased’s family. Traditionally this is for seven days, however some Reform and other Jews now sit Shiva for just three days (or sometimes just one).  During this time, all day-to-day activities, such as work and cooking, are stopped so the bereaved can focus on mourning and praying. It is customary for friends to visit and bring food. A candle is lit and mirrors are covered. Bathing is not allowed, nor shaving for men. Family sit on low chairs or benches.

After this, a second period of mourning (“shloshim”, meaning thirty) is observed which lasts until the thirtieth day after the funeral. During this time, mourners resume their daily routines but will continue to recite the Kaddish daily and to avoid social gatherings and celebratory events.  For most, this marks the end of the formal mourning period. However, in the case of the death of a parent, the mourning period (“Shneim Asar Chodesh”) lasts a year. During this time, large gatherings and celebrations should be avoided.

What to wear

For an Orthodox funeral service, everyone wears a head covering; men wear yarmulkes and women wear scarves. For a Reform funeral service, a head covering is optional.  For both, dark coloured, conservative clothing is appropriate.

Donations or Flowers

Flowers are traditionally not present at the funeral service. Instead, donations can be make to a chosen charity.

Acceptable practices

Organ donation and donating the body to medical research is acceptable.

Embalming and cremation are not acceptable to Orthodox Jews, unless required by law.

 

The Methodist Church is part of the worldwide Christian church and grew out of the 18th century Evangelical Revival. Formed in the UK by the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, at their 'holy club' at Oxford, it was so named because of the way they used 'method' and 'rules' to determine their religious convictions. At this time, it was still part of the Church of England, but after Charles Wesley's death it broke away.

The funeral service

A Methodist funeral has all the elements of a traditional Christian funeral. The funeral service can take place in the local Methodist church. However, most do not have burial grounds, or if they do many are full, so cremation or burial at a local cemetery is more usual.

After the funeral

After the service, it is usual for family and friends to gather together, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. This is an opportunity for mourners to support each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

Sometimes, if it is a small, private funeral, a memorial service will take place at a later date for wider family and friends.

What to wear

It is no longer obligatory to wear black to funerals but, unless the family specify otherwise, smart clothing in subdued colours is expected.

Donations or Flowers

It is increasingly common for charitable donations to be made to the deceased’s chosen charity, in lieu of flowers. There may be a collection for the charity during the funeral service or it can be made independently by attendees.

Otherwise, floral tributes can be sent to the funeral director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

Acceptable practices

Burial, cremation, embalming and donation of the body to medical science are all acceptable.

 

For more information, please see:

The Methodist Church

Find a Church UK

Mormons (or ‘Latter-day Saints’) are a religious and cultural group related to the Latter Day Saint movement of Restoration Christianity, initiated by Joseph Smith in New York during the 1920s. Mormons self-identify as Christian and use the Holy Bible as well as the Book of Mormon in their teachings and for personal study. Mormons believe that all people are spirit-children of God and that in order to return to God they must follow the example of Jesus Christ and that, through His atonement, everyone will be resurrected and live forever. In death, Mormons believe that we take with us what is in our hearts and minds.  Our familial relationships, by marriage (if they take place in a temple), birth or adoption, are forever too.

So, whilst Mormons see a funeral as a time of sadness, they also believe that death is not a permanent absence or end to life and love. In death, they are reunited with those who have died before them and, in turn, those who are left behind will join their loved-one when their time comes. Death marks the graduation to the second part of a three-stage life and is, therefore, a cause for respectful celebration as well as mourning.

Preparing the body

If possible, the family members and church members (Relief society sister dress women and priesthood brethren dress men) dress the deceased. If the deceased has received the temple endowment and the ceremony is taking place in a Latter Day Saint temple, they should be dressed in temple clothing. If the family wishes, there can be a viewing, after which the family gathers for a prayer and the casket is close.

The funeral service

Mormon funerals take place at the Latter Day Saint chapel, usually under the direction of the Bishop of the Ward (who is a lay leader, so may not always be available). Once guests are seated, the casket is brought to the front of the chapel, followed by the family who sit in the first rows of seats. The funeral is arranged by the family. The service begins and ends with sacred funeral music and prayers. Hymns may also be sung, then speakers, often including the bishop, talk about the plan of salvation and about the person who has died, usually focusing on happy and inspirational stories and memories.

Family and close friends then move to the cemetery, where the grave is dedicated.

After the funeral

From the time of death, Church members will have brought meals for the family and in the months and years to come they will provide support, both emotional, practical and financial.

What to wear

White temple clothing should be worn by Mormon men and women. For others, modest, conservative attire is suitable.

Acceptable practices

Cremation is discouraged but not prohibited.

Organ donation is acceptable.

For more information, please see:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Views and practices vary between the two main sects within Islam (Shi’a and Sunni) but Muslims commonly believe that entry into Paradise on the Day of Judgement (the “Last Day”) is attained through the good deeds one does in one’s life. Until then, the dead will remain in their tombs, experiencing either peace, for those heading to Paradise, or suffering, for those heading to Hell.

Preparing the body

The body is washed (“Ghusi”) at least three times (and always an odd number of times) by members of the same sex (although the spouse may perform the washing) and wrapped in a shroud (“Kafan”). Washing takes place in a specific order: upper right side, upper left side, lower right side, lower left side. Women’s hair is washed and braided into three braids and, if possible, they should be dressed in an ankle-length, sleeveless dress and head veil.  The body is then be covered in a white sheet. The shroud is made of three white sheets laid on top of each other. The body is placed on top of the sheets and the left hand should rest on the chest and the right hand on the left hand, in a position of prayer. The sheets are folded over the body one by one, first the right side, then the left, until all three sheets encase the body. The shroud is secured by ropes, one tied above the head, two tied around the body, and one tied below the feet. 

The funeral service

According to Islamic law (“shariah”), burial should take place as soon as possible after death, so there is no viewing. The local Islamic community organisation will help make arrangements for the service and the burial.

After being prepared, the body is taken to the mosque and funeral prayers (“Salat al-Janazah”) are performed by all members of the community. These are performed in a prayer room, study, or in the mosque’s courtyard. Those praying face Mecca (“qiblah”) and form at least three lines, with the most closely related male in the first line, followed by other men, then children, then women.

The body will then be taken to the cemetery for burial (some cemeteries in the UK now allow Muslims to be buried without a coffin). Traditionally, only men are present at the burial. The grave is dug perpendicular to Mecca, with the body on its right side, facing Mecca. “Bismilllah wa ala millati rasulillah” (“In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah”) is recited by those placing the body in the grave and then a layer of wood or stones is placed on top to prevent the soil from touching the body. Each mourner will pour three handfuls of soil into the grave, which is then filled in. The grave may only be marked by a stone or marker; large monuments or elaborate decorations are prohibited.

After the funeral

Mourners will usually return to the Mosque or gather in the home of the family where a meal is served. Food is provided by the community for the first three days after the funeral.

Usually, the mourning period lasts 40 days, but it may be shorter for less religious families. Widows are expected to observe a longer mourning period of four months and ten days, during which time they should not interact with men whom they could potentially marry (“na-mahram”). 

What to wear

Conservative, modest, clothing in subdued colours should be worn. Men should wear smart trousers and a shirt and women should wear an ankle length skirt, a long-sleeved, high-necked top and a headscarf. Shoes should be removed before entering the prayer hall.

Acceptable practices

Cremation, embalming and cosmetology are forbidden, unless obliged by law.

Routine autopsies are not acceptable.

Organ donation is generally acceptable.

 

The Orthodox Church (also known as the Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church) is the second largest Christian church. Unlike other Western Christian beliefs, Heaven and Hell are viewed in a more abstract way. Those who love God experience his eternal presence as Heaven and for those who do not love God, they experience his eternal presence as a Hell.

Preparing the body

When death is imminent, a priest will hear the final confession and administer Holy Communion. After death, the priest will say prayers for the release of the soul.

The body is then washed and dressed by family in the presence of a priest. The priest will sprinkle holy water on all four sides of the casket and the body will then be placed inside.

It is traditional to have a wake, usually lasting three days, but sometimes only one. The wake starts with the First Panikhida (a prayer service for the deceased) and continues with family and friends reading aloud from the Psalter (Book of Psalms) and reciting other Paikhidas.

The funeral service

Traditionally, the body is transported to the church in a procession led by the cross, with the priest walking in front of the casket with the censer. The Trisagion hymn is recited (this is done at the end of the wake if there is to be no procession). The casket is then opened and a wreath with the Trisagion printed on is placed on the deceased’s head and cross or small icon of Christ is placed in their hand or alongside them. A bowl of Koliva (a dish of wheat and honey) and a lit candle are placed by the top of the casket. These items symbolise the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of Heaven. 

Mourners receive a lit candle on entering the church and they stand throughout the service. The priest will lead the Divine Liturgy and the Dismissal and recite “Memory Eternal”.  Holy Communion may also be offered. The mourners then approach the coffin to pay their last respects to the deceased, kissing the icon or cross in the casket. As the casket is closed and taken to the cemetery the Trisagion is recited again.

At the cemetery the priest performs a short burial service, pouring olive oil and earth in the shape of a cross on the coffin, and in some traditions, pouring wheat in to the coffin too. The Trisagion Hymn is once again sung.

After the funeral

After the funeral, mourners gather for a reception (“Makaria”) where they reminisce and share stories, and acknowledge the part the person played in their lives or community. A meal called a “mercy meal” is eaten.

A mourning period of forty days is observed. During this time, the third, ninth and fortieth day have special significance. Close relatives may stay at home for one week after the funeral and may avoid social gatherings for two months. After the mourning period, memorials are celebrated at three, six and nine months, then each year until at least the seventh anniversary. Widows and widowers wear black clothing throughout the one year mourning period and regularly recite Panikhidas.

What to wear

Modest clothing in dark colours is expected.

Acceptable practices

Cremation is forbidden.

Embalming is acceptable.

Organ donation is largely acceptable (although the heart is more controversial) as long as there is written consent.

Suicide is not recognised and those who commit suicide may not have an Orthodox Funeral.

 

For more information, please see:

Orthodox Churches in the UK

Find a Church UK

 

The Quaker movement grew out of the ideas and beliefs of George Fox in the mid-seventeenth century. Disillusioned with religious beliefs and practises of those around him, he believed that everyone could discover their 'Inner Light' and find and experience God within themselves. Despite persecution and imprisonment, the Quakers continued to petition, through non-violent means, for freedom of conscience in religious matters. These ideas were incapsulated by Margaret Fell, the mother of Quakerism, in her testimony of peace. It's core belief in peace, equality, social and economic justice and sustainability, inspired by their faith, have inspired Quakers past and present to work towards a better, fairer world.

The funeral service

Quaker funerals are simple and informal. They can take place at a Quaker meeting house, a crematorium, at the graveside or any other convenient place to gather. They are a time for quiet reflection and thanksgiving for the life of the person who has died. Anyone present can contribute to the service, through prayer, sharing memories of the deceased or words of comfort for those left behind. Readings and songs can be part of the service too. There is no set format and the service ends when the time feels right, when those present shake hands with fellow mourners.

Acceptable practices

For more information, please see:

Quakers in Britain

The Catholic Church, whose head is the Pope in Rome, takes the Easter journey of Jesus Christ from death to resurrection as the model for its funeral service.

When a person is nearing death, they should try to go to sacramental confession. This will be followed by the anointing of the sick (extreme unction) and then final communion given by a priest.  Subsequent communions, if required, can be given by a deacon or extraordinary minister. If appropriate, Communion can also be given to those tending to the sick person too.

The Roman Catholic funeral services offers worship and thanksgiving to God for the life of a faithful and committed member of the Church and offers hope and consolation to those left behind. The Catholic Funeral Liturgy has time-honoured traditions and ritual forms and texts. However, within this framework there is some flexibility allowing for the service to be a unique and personal occasion.

The funeral service

It is not always possible to follow the tradition of the reception of the body into the church the night before the funeral. Often a single service is held, but still following the traditional three stages: The Vigil, The Funeral Liturgy (or service) and The Committal.

The Vigil is the first stage of the farewell journey and helps prepared the bereaved for leave-taking. Held in the home or another suitable place, the service is a simple Liturgy of the Word of God or Evening Prayer.

The Liturgy is usually celebrated in a church or a crematorium or cemetery chapel. Family, friends and the local community gather for the Sunday Eucharist; either a Requiem Mass or a funeral liturgy outside Mass. If appropriate, a funeral without a Mass is also an option.

The Committal, at the graveside or at the crematorium, usually follows immediately after The Liturgy.  

Traditionally, Roman Catholics are buried. Sprinkling earth or water on the coffin as it is lowered into the ground is an important part of saying farewell to a loved one.

Cremation has only been permitted by the Vatican since 1963. After cremation, the farewell process must be completed by interning the ashes in a final resting place. Retaining or scattering the ashes, whilst not forbidden, is discouraged.

After the funeral

It is usual to gather family and friends together after the service, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. The scale and nature of this occasion is largely the choice of those closest to the person who has died. It is an opportunity to console and support each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

What to wear

Dark, modest clothing should be worn, usually a suit for men and a dress, skirt or smart trousers with a long-sleeved top for women.

Donations or Flowers

Floral tributes can be sent to the Funeral Director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

It is customary to give Mass cards to the family of the deceased. This is a greeting card given to someone to let them know that they, or a deceased's loved-one, will be remembered and prayed for in the intentions at a Mass. Cards can be obtained and an offering (donation) made, at the parish office or they can be purchased from a store. 

Acceptable practices

Burial, Cremation and Embalming and donation of the body to medical research are all acceptable.

 

For more information, please see:

Find a Church UK

 

Sikhs believe there is only one God and that all people are equal in matters of religion. Therefore, there are no priests but Sikhs follow the teachings of the ten Gurus (Spiritual Teachers), who founded the Sikh religion. 

Sikhs believe in transmigration of the soul, where the soul never dies but passes from one body to another on death. Death is seen as God’s will and human life is seen as an opportunity for the soul to break out of this cycle and unite with Waheguru, the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge (the Sikh name for God). Therefore, the focus of the Sikh funeral ceremony is not on grief and loss, but is a time of praising God in accordance with the teachings of the code of conduct (The Rahit Maryada).

Preparing the body

If the body is on a bed it should not be moved and no light placed next to it. The body should be washed and dressed in clean clothes. The hair should not be cut or removed from any part of the body and the articles of Sikh faith (Kakaars) – a small wooden comb (kangha), kachha shorts (kachha) and iron bracelet (karha) and a sword of an unspecified length (kirpan) – should remain with the body. The body may be surrounded with flowers and prayers are said which acknowledge that death is an act of God.

The funeral service

From the day of death, the bereaved family will carry out a devotional reading of the Sri Guru Granth Shahib, either continuously over 3 days, or intermittently over 10 or more days, ending on the day of the funeral. This is done either at home or at the Gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship).

The format for a Sikh funeral can vary widely. Most include the recital of Ardas, a community prayer, as well as two daily prayers, Japji and Kirtan Sohila. There may be a service before the cremation and afterwards too, at the Gurdwara. Services can be held at home, at the Gurdwara, at the crematorium or outdoors.

Since death is seen as God’s will and an opportunity for the soul to move on, ritualised mourning does not form part of the Sikh funeral ceremony. Public displays of grief are avoided.

Sikhs should be cremated, unless there is good reason for this not to happen. The ashes should be immersed in flowing water or buried.

The mourning period lasts between two and five weeks and on the first anniversary of the death, the family gather and pray.

After the funeral

The guests return to the family home where a meal, prepared by neighbours and friends, will be waiting. Prayers are read and hymns sung.  On returning home, mourners are expected to bathe in order to cleanse themselves.

What to wear

Sikhs will always cover their heads at a funeral. Men wear white headscarves and women wear pale coloured or white headscarves. Guests should wear smart, modest clothes in subdued colours and should also cover their heads. Shoes are removed when entering a Gurdwara or home of a Sikh.

Acceptable practices

Sikhs are cremated unless there is good reason for this not to happen.

Organ donation is generally seen as acceptable for Sikhs.