Funeral Officiants: your questions answered

Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As we have been so long established as Funeral Directors, we have a good sense of some of the most common questions people have around funerals. Taking feedback from colleagues in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint as to what we are asked […]

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Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As we have been so long established as Funeral Directors, we have a good sense of some of the most common questions people have around funerals. Taking feedback from colleagues in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint as to what we are asked frequently, we have produced a series of blog posts addressing some of these issues.

Today, we will be looking at some of the questions that we are asked about who can officiate at the service.

Can my own minister take the funeral?

Absolutely. For anyone practicing an established faith, they may view their Minister, Pastor, or other community leader as the obvious choice. This is an additional person whose availability must be taken into account when the funeral booking is made. We will usually not formalise a provisional booking which has been made until we have personally confirmed your Officiant’s ability to take the service on that date and time, unless you tell us that their officiating is your preference but your chosen date must take priority and, if they are unavailable, we will move to other options. It may also be that a member of the family is an officiant and so they would be attending the funeral in any case.

Can someone we know who isn’t a Minister take a funeral service?

Definitely. If there is someone in the family or close friendship group skilled at public speaking, who is happy to fulfil this role, then we will offer all assistance, but you should ensure that they are truly happy to do this, and feel able to say no if they can’t. Taking a funeral involves practicalities such as keeping an eye on the time and ensuring you know what is happening next- this can be harder to manage if you are emotionally affected by the service itself.

We don’t know a Minister to ask to officiate, can you help?

Yes- many people ask us to do so. The key information we will need to know is the ‘type’ of person. We are usually able to find a Minister of any faith to take a service. However, within some religions, there is less willingness on the part of a Minister to take a service for someone outside of his or her congregation or who was not regularly practicing. Some religions hold regular worship as one of their main principles, and so may not view someone who was lapsed or sceptical about the religion as being part of it, which may contrast with the family’s or Deceased person’s own thoughts and so can be complicated to navigate.

Can we have a non-religious officiant?

Yes, and there are options available. There are broadly two types of non-religious officiant.

Humanists do not believe in any God or in concepts such as Heaven. There are many Humanist officiants and some are more restrictive about the type of content they will be happy to include. For example, some might allow ‘Abide with Me’ to be sung because of its connection to the FA Cup final if the Deceased person’s love of football was central to the service, while others would refuse because of the religious connotations. It should be remembered that Humanism is a belief- you would not expect a Rabbi to read an excerpt from the Quran or a Church of England minister to lead the congregation in a Jehovah’s Witness worship song- therefore you should not expect a Humanist to be willing to accommodate religious content.

The other type of non-religious officiant is known as a Civil Celebrant. Like Humanist celebrants, they are not ordained ministers of any particular faith group, but unlike Humanists, they are not taking the service in the context of their own belief system. Most civil celebrants will be happy to include hymns or prayers within the service, but the service itself will be non-religious in tone. Many people find this to be a compromise when they want a service that is not based on faith but includes it in part. For example, it is still very common for families to wish to include The Lord’s Prayer even when the content is otherwise entirely secular.

How do you choose an officiant for us?

This is quite simple. Sometimes there will be rules for us to follow– for example, if you ask for a Church of England Minister to take the service, unless you belong to a different congregation, we will ask the local parish in the first instance.

If it is a Humanist service, or to be led by a Civil Celebrant, unless you have a particular Officiant in mind, it is our responsibility to find someone who we think will suit you, and be able to deliver the service to your requirements. Our staff will skilfully make this assessment in the course of discussing the funeral arrangements, although we may also ask questions to help us with this. If this sounds mysterious, it isn’t really! We will take cues from you as to your wishes for the service, and use this information to guide us. Sometimes it will be obvious- you might talk about wanting to celebrate the life of the person who has died, talk about wearing bright colours or fancy dress and tell us you have already chosen upbeat music. It might be far more subtle. But, by the end of the meeting, and perhaps with the help of some questions if we still aren’t sure, we will probably have identified two or three Officiants from those we know, and we would approach them in order of preference. Some Officiants are suitable for virtually any service, some are more serious or more light-hearted and sometimes we just get a feeling about a particular person for you. This sounds tenuous, perhaps, but our client feedback shows we overwhelmingly get it right, with the vast majority of clients thanking us for our choice of Officiant and commenting on their suitability.

Does someone have to officiate at all?

No, not if you don’t want that. Less formal or simpler services, perhaps where there is just music to listen to, lend themselves especially well to this. However, someone does need to ensure all of the desired content is included, the music plays when requested and that anyone who wants to say something gets the chance. Our Funeral Director can assist on the day, and ensure you stick to proscribed times too, but we would tend to suggest that someone reliable is designated any particular responsibilities for these important parts of the service.

If you have any questions about funeral services, please do let us know – we’ll be happy to help.

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Written by Abi Pattenden

Manager

April 3, 2024

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