Ceremony or service
There is a subtle difference between a service and a ceremony. A funeral service is a religious ceremony following prescribed rites. A funeral ceremony does not have to be religious.
This encapsulates the biggest change in funeral practice that I have seen in thirty years. I work in a very traditional, rural area, with many families having long connections with their local church. I also arrange a large proportion of burials compared to the national average, as many of the local village churches still have burial space and generations of local families are buried there. However, very few people I support make any claim to having a religious faith.
The fact is that ceremonies are overtaking services.
Okay, so let’s look at the important factors when making a decision on the type of funeral we want.
Funerals are not for the deceased, but for those left behind. Funerals should reflect the person who has died; their nature, personality, relationships and likes, among many others. This reflection is usually built around a verbal tribute to them and possibly their life achievements (this can be difficult if they were a disreputable character). This is then expanded with music, poems and readings.
Here, we face the possibility of disagreement caused by individual or family expectations. A Humanist ceremony may not provide much comfort or consolation to a devout Catholic, and vice versa. So, in planning a funeral, we may be walking a very difficult path of compromise, or not.
The key is to plan. This is why I continually implore people to research, consider, discuss and write down their funeral wishes. This can be such a cathartic conversation and an immense help to close family members who are left to put arrangements into place.
Here are a few issues and choices to consider.
Many funerals take place in crematorium ‘chapels’. These are purpose built for the occasion and include comfortable seating, a place to rest the coffin during the ceremony, music and video facilities and increasingly, recording and podcasting capabilities. Ceremonies can take place beside a grave. Funerals can, and have been conducted in village halls, public house function rooms, a marquee in the garden, in fact, anywhere that is suitable for the occasion.
There is no legal requirement to have any form of ceremony. Some people choose not to have one, or to keep it very simple. Some people chose to sit listening to music for a short time before leaving. If you do choose to have a ceremony, there are a number of ways it can be conducted. You may employ a minster of religion, a humanist or civil celebrant, or you may choose a friend or family member, or members, to lead it. Again, the secret is to research, consider and plan.