What happens at a funeral service - you decide!

The etiquette of funerals confuses many

A funeral is a complex social event - the last 'Rite of Passage' for the individual. In the UK, although we are a secular society, and one in which there are many faiths, most funerals are religious.

Church service

A Church of England funeral is the most common. If regular churchgoers, the family are likely to have the service in the church in which they worship.

If the deceased did not worship at a church, the family or the appointed funeral director will ask the vicar at the local church if the service can be held there.

It is unlikely that the vicar will refuse ... after all, it encourages new people to the church and increases the church’s income.

The vicar is unlikely to agree for the person to be buried in the churchyard. There is now hardly any space available in churchyards, and if there was it would not be for those who rarely, if ever, attended the church.

Family and friends will be invited to the service. People who knew the deceased may often attend the funeral, uninvited, to say a personal farewell from the back of the church.

If the family want a religious funeral but the deceased (or close members of his or her family) was not a church goer, the family may decide to have the funeral service at the chapel at the local crematorium or cemetery.

The family must decide if they want flowers to adorn the church or chapel, and inform the funeral director who can organise their purchase, or members of the family can be responsible for the flowers. There is a growing trend for donations to charity rather than the expense of flowers.

This decision should be made early so that information about the charity to benefit can be put on invites and Order of service leaflets. Do not bring flowers to a funeral when donations have been requested.

It is customary for the family and friends to enter the church/chapel first, with the immediate family in the front row, seated on the side closest to the lectern/pulpit.

The organist will play a specific piece chosen for the entry of the coffin. In a crematorium chapel, recorded music is often played on cue by a member of the crematorium staff.

The mourners stand as the vicar, reading from the scriptures, precedes the pall bearers carrying the coffin down the aisle.

In church, the coffin is placed on wooden trestles, or sometimes on the floor, in front of the altar. In the crematorium it rests on a plinth called the catafalque.

The entrance music concludes and the vicar invites the mourners to sit.

He or she will lead prayers in appreciation for the life that God gave.

The grief of the mourners will be acknowledged and God’s blessing will be given to them, with the expectation that the spirit of the dead person has now moved to be with God.

One or two hymns will be sung, though increasingly secular pieces can be chosen if appropriate.

The vicar will give the tribute of the deceased’s life, sometimes as part of a wider sermon.

Increasingly, it is usual for a member of the family, or a close friend, to give a eulogy/tribute as well as for poems to be read.

At the end of the church funeral, close family members will accompany the coffin from the church to the cemetery, for burial, or crematorium, to be cremated.

As the mourners leave, a fitting piece of music is played.


When the close family members arrive with the coffin at the burial location, prayers are said at the graveside ending with the prayer of Committal, as the coffin is lowered. Committal is also known as interment.

At the crematorium chapel, there will be a similar short summary of the life and prayers before the Committal prayer and the coffin is taken from view, usually by the closing of curtains.

Some families organise for the ashes to be put in an urn and the urn buried in a shallow hole in the family graveyard. A short Committal service is conducted as the urn is interred. You can ask a minister of religion to perform the committal should you wish to dispose of the ashes in other ways.


It is customary for a reception to follow the funeral. This is sometimes referred to as a gathering or a wake.

More people are normally invited to the reception and it is often the occasion for friends, family, colleagues and neighbours to recall in a less constrained way their memories of the departed.

To ensure you have the funeral service you want write down your funeral wishes and ensure your close family and executor knows them - after all, it is your last event so make it a good one! If you want the reception to be a great remembrance party, organise this too, before you go!


Tags: Funeral service funeral etiquette memorial service committal secular society pall bearers catafalque funeral reception Rite of Passage

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