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Religious or secular services

There are many different services available to suit the wishes of the person who has died, whether they had religious beliefs or not.

On this page:

If you’re still unsure what’s appropriate or allowed after checking the last wishes and asking family and friends, here is some guidance around faith and secular services:

  • Religious setting (eg church, synagogue, mosque). There may be guidelines or requirements. The minister or other faith leader can tell you about these. They can also give guidance about the content and order of prayers and/or the service.
  • Non-religious setting (eg crematorium). There may also be guidelines but these are usually fairly relaxed.

How different religions handle funerals

Here are some of the most common practices in today’s society, by religion.

Held at: Church the person attended

Key elements of ceremony: Service includes a special Eucharist, requiem mass and prayers for the soul. The body in the coffin is blessed with incense and sprinkled with holy water

What happens to the body? Burial or (less often) cremation

Held at: Meeting house

Key elements of ceremony: Informal service of silent contemplation with people speaking about the person who died, reading, sharing their thoughts.

What happens to the body? Burial or cremation

Held at: Church or chapel and graveside

Key elements of ceremony: Service includes hymns, psalms, prayers and Bible readings

What happens to the body? Burial or cremation

Held at: Synagogue or graveside within 24 hours of death

Key elements of ceremony: Eulogy or Hasped plus recital of Kaddish (ancient Hebrew prayer)

What happens to the body? Burial

Held at: Temple or Hindu-friendly crematorium

Key elements of ceremony: Prayers at entry to crematorium, offerings such as sweetmeats or flowers. Horns and bells. Readings from scriptures. Chief mourner (usually eldest son or male of family) pushes button to make coffin go and may go below to light the cremator.

What happens to the body? Cremation

Held at: Outside mosque or prayer room within 24 hours of death

Key elements of ceremony: Funeral prayers – Salat-ul-Janazah -outside mosque or prayer room. Body placed in grave normally without coffin with face turned right towards Mecca

What happens to the body? Burial

Who will lead the ceremony?

  • If you’re having a religious ceremony this will usually be the faith leader.
  • If you’re not religious or don’t regularly attend worship, the funeral director (if you’re using one) may suggest a secular or civil celebrant.

To pick your own celebrant contact the Institute of Civil Funerals   or alternatively the British Humanist Association  Scotland   and Northern Ireland   also have a local Humanist Society. If you want to do it yourself, the Natural Death Centre   can help.

Alternative options

A growing number of people are choosing to have completely non-religious (secular) ceremonies or to combine religious or traditional elements with more informal and personal contributions. There are a couple of options:

  • You lead the ceremony – you choose the music and you and/or relative(s) or friend(s) provide a few carefully chosen words.
  • You ask a faith leader or secular celebrant to start and end the service, and lead the mourners in prayer or reflection and leave the middle bit of the ceremony for family and/or friends to make contributions.

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