Planning a non-religious funeral

02 November 2021

No one finds planning a funeral easy, but it’s important to ensure the service is as special as the person being celebrated. And it seems that recently, more people than ever are opting for a non-religious celebration of life. So, if you’re looking to arrange a humanist funeral for a loved one or you would simply like to learn more about it, this article can help answer some common questions you may have.

What is a humanist funeral?

A humanist funeral is a non-religious funeral service that focuses on the life the person led, the relationships they made and the legacy they left, rather than a service based around a particular faith. So, if the person who has passed away didn’t have any particular religious beliefs, then a humanist funeral may be an appropriate way to celebrate their life.

 

Who conducts a non-religious funeral?

Non-religious funerals are usually held by a qualified humanist celebrant, who is responsible for conducting the ceremony while helping loved ones pay their respects. However, funerals have no legal status, which means anyone can lead one if they wish, whether that’s a public figure from the community, a loved one, or friend. Acting as a celebrant at a funeral for someone close to us can be a very special gesture and you don’t need any training to do it, although being able to maintain composure is essential. Someone wishing to officiate a loved one’s humanist ceremony could always arrange a meeting with a qualified celebrant to discuss any ideas or concerns they may have in preparation.

 

What happens at a non-religious funeral?

The aim of a humanist funeral is to mark the life of the person in a way unique to them – there is no set structure. However, a typical order of service follows a similar pattern to traditional religious ceremonies, featuring celebration of life readings and more comtemporary songs, rather than hymns and prayers.

Planning a celebration of life memorial service can include as many or as few elements as you wish, but a typical example of how one might flow is:

  • Entry music
  • A welcome conducted by the celebrant or person leading the service. This could include thoughts on life from a humanist perspective.
  • A tribute to the deceased read by the celebrant, a family member, or friend looking back at favourite memories, who they were and the life they have led.
  • A reading or poetry that feels appropriate or is sentimental.
  • A minute or two of silence to allow those in attendance some time with their thoughts and reflections.
  • The coffin is lowered into the ground or the curtains around the coffin are closed.
  • Closing words by the celebrant, including thank yous from the deceased’s family.
  • Closing music as mourners depart.

Where can you hold a non-religious funeral?

A humanist funeral service can be held anywhere that isn’t a church or place of worship. Although they usually take place at a crematorium, cemetery, or natural burial site, they can also be held at a place that was special to the deceased such as:

  • A town hall
  • Your home or garden
  • A hotel or event space
  • A public park
  • Pub or restaurant
  • The beach

How can you personalise a humanist funeral service?

As there isn’t a set schedule for a non-religious funeral to adhere to, you can personalise the service as much or as little as you would like. Some people opt for a dress code of bright colours and light-hearted music to be played throughout, while others prefer a more traditional and sentimental approach – the most important thing is that the deceased’s wishes are being honoured in a respectful way.

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