How to Plan a Secular Funeral Service

Posted: 07/11/2017

The very notion of a funeral may be intimately bound up with religious history, but the need to respect and bury the dead is traceable way back into ancient times, long before ‘common era’ began. Despite the majority of funerals being religious in some way or another, secular funeral services are indeed possible, and are increasingly being practiced in the UK.

People may opt for a non-religious funeral for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the deceased themselves was not religious; religion may be a matter of sensitivity for some; or in other cases the family have simply decided to divide all religious sentiments from the occasion out of preference.

What is different about a Secular Funeral?

  • It may not take place in a religious setting (e.g. no Church)
  • No hymns or religious songs
  • More flexibility on dress (e.g. no black clothing rule)
  • No religious minister as celebrant
  • Less-formal speeches
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Funeral plans will usually offer both religious and secular funerals. A lot of the same decisions that have to be made in the planning process of religious funerals apply to secular funerals, from guest-lists to flower arrangements. Here are some particular points to look out for when it comes to planning for a secular funeral:

Conducting the Service

In religious funeral services, it is the job of the religious leader (e.g. priest) to conduct the service. Your conductor does not have to be religious, however. Alternatively, you might choose to have a civil celebrant conduct the service. Technically, anyone can conduct funeral, so long as they are well-prepared and able to address a room full of guests in a sensitive manner. Many people may decide to have a friend or family member to conduct a service, or, if it is not their own funeral they are planning, they might decide to do it themselves.

Choosing a Venue

Religious or traditional funerals tend to have two venues that host a funeral: one for the service, and one for the reception. Generally, the service takes place in the religious setting, and the reception is when the group moves on to a more neutral setting. Non-religious funerals might only take place in one venue, depending on what the service entails. If the deceased is to be cremated, for example, the service may be in a crematorium, and the reception elsewhere. Funeral ceremonies can legally be held wherever you choose.

Some spaces to consider:

  • A woodland area /burial site
  • A crematorium
  • A cemetery

Choosing Music

When choosing non-religious music, bear in mind that music that may be considered offensive or explicit is generally inappropriate in a funeral setting, although like everything else these decisions are largely flexible in a secular environment. Choosing songs by artists enjoyed by the deceased is a great option, as is opting for a collection of family favourites. The idea of a secular funeral is that it is supposed to make all attendees feel welcome, whether they be religious or not. As such, avoid songs with any such religious affiliation, and focus on music that will help to unite people.

Some popular songs are:

  • My Way – Frank Sinatra
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
  • Circle of Life – Elton John
  • Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac

Choosing Words

Most funerals involve some sort of speech-making which is coupled by saying a prayer. Instead of a religious speech and prayer, consider giving guests the opportunity to share memories of the deceased in a semi-formal format. Further, reading out a secular poem is a great thing to do at a funeral.

Some popular poems are:

  • Funeral Blues – W.H. Auden
  • Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep – Mary Elizabeth Frye
  • The Trees – Philip Larkin
  • Invictus – William Ernest Henley
  • Remember – Christina Rossetti
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With religious funeral services on the decline in the UK, it is good to know what putting together a secular funeral may entail should family member or friend one day request one. Secular funerals need not take more organization or effort than religious ones; most funeral service providers will account for them, and guide you suitably through the process. Whether you opt for a humanist funeral or a civil funeral; the options for non-religious funeral services are boundless.