No two people are the same.
The same applies to funerals; we all have different beliefs, tastes, and preferences.
According to data published in 2019 by the Office for National Statistics, around 39 per cent of the population in Britain now says it has no religion.
This trend is reflected by the growing popularity of non-religious, or humanist, funeral services
What is a humanist, or non-religious, funeral?
All religions have their own traditions and rituals when it comes to funerals.
In some instances, these have been developed over centuries. They can be comforting and familiar, helping those with religious beliefs say a proper goodbye to their loved ones.
But what if you don’t identify with a particular faith, or no longer feel a tradition that you followed while younger is resonant?
Non-religious, or humanist, funerals are a form of ceremony that respects the beliefs and values of people who have no religious affiliation.
They honour the dead, and help the bereaved come to terms with their grief.
Because there is no set formula for a humanist or non-religious funeral, there is a great deal of variety in what they involve.
The ceremony doesn’t need to follow any kind of order or template, but it often reflects customs that people are familiar with.
What sort of people have a non-religious funeral?
All kinds of people opt for a non-religious funeral.
Some are committed atheists, while others are agnostic.
Others are individuals for whom a religious traditions they followed earlier in their life no longer reflects who they are.
They are sometimes chosen by family members after a loved one has left no clear instructions about the kind of funeral they would like.
Others may have spiritual beliefs that aren’t reflected in any traditional religion.
In short, there is no one single type of person that opts for a non-religious funeral and the format can be adapted to reflect their specific beliefs.
When should a non-religious funeral be held?
A non-religious funeral or memorial ceremony can be held before or after the committal.
Some people request that a simple committal takes place, perhaps with just close family present, before a memorial ceremony at a later date.
This can sometimes be helpful for mourners, who are able to organise a memorial service at a gentler pace.
It may also allow for friends and family that live a distance away to make travel arrangements to attend.
Who conducts a non-religious funeral?
Anyone can lead a non-religious ceremony.
Sometimes members of the family, or good friends of the deceased, may take on the role.
In other cases, they may use a celebrant.
Where can a non-religious funeral be held?
A non-religious or humanist funeral can be held at any venue that’s happy to accommodate it.
It can take place at a venue that was important to the deceased, or their family, and it can even take place outdoors.
Woodland and green burial sites are often used for non-religious funerals.
Working with a celebrant
Humanist funerals are usually conducted by a celebrant.
These are individuals who are trained to lead non-religious rites of passage such as weddings and funerals.
Your funeral director will normally have a list of local celebrants who they work with, and they will be able to advise who might suitable and available.
The celebrant will usually talk to the family of the bereaved to learn more about their loved one.
They will want to find about the deceased as an individual, what they achieved in life, what their interests were, what they were passionate about and how the family remember them.
Many people that opt for a non-religious funeral have already met the celebrant to discuss plans for their service.
That can be helpful for the family, who are left in no doubt the form of funeral their loved one desires.
If no instructions were left by the deceased, the celebrant will work on a structure for the ceremony with the family. The ceremony will focus on the deceased’s life, their achievements and personality as well as family and community commitments.
The celebrant will draw on their expertise and experience to ensure everything goes smoothly.
What will a non-religious ceremony involve?
A non-religious ceremony permits more space for personalisation than most religious funerals even if they follow a similar pattern.
There may be a eulogy or address, perhaps by a member of the family, a good friend or the celebrant.
The celebrant will discuss the music you might wish to play.
This could be popular non-religious songs, a classical piece or other music that was important to the deceased, or that says something about them.
Non-religious songs are sometimes sung by the mourners in place of hymns.
There might be room for readings. This could be popular poetry, or something written by a family member or friend of the deceased.
There is a wide range of possibilities when planning a non-religious funeral, but the focus throughout is commemorating and celebrating the deceased as an individual.
A common structure is as follows;
- Music plays as the service begins
- The celebrant welcomes the mourners. They may say a few words, summing up what it means to celebrate a life, and how we might say goodbye
- The celebrant or a close family member reads a tribute to the person who has died
- Friends and family give readings
- A moment’s reflective silence is observed
- The coffin is taken from view
- The celebrant shares some closing thoughts
- Music plays as the mourners leave
Choosing a non-religious funeral
It is helpful if you stipulate a wish to have a non-religious funeral in your will.
You can also plan the details of a service with a celebrant.
A funeral is a personal event, when a family comes together to mark the passing of a loved one and to celebrate their life. It should reflect the beliefs and personality of the deceased as closely as possible.
Your funeral your way
We are a rich and diverse community and Middleton’s Funeral Services offer funerals for all, regardless of religion or belief. Whether you would like a full religious service or a non-religious celebration of life, whether you would like a woodland burial or a simple funeral – it’s your funeral your way.