Non-religious funerals or memorials
A celebration of a life
Most of us want to mark important events in our lives, and to
commemorate people we have loved when they die. For those of us with no
religious belief it’s important that we do so with honesty, warmth and
affection, using words and music that are personal and appropriate to the lives
of the people involved.
You do an important job well; thank you for helping us when it was so much needed.
Thank you, you really lead the service well and read our words so beautifully. I wouldn't have been able to read my poem if it was not for your good advice and support.
Just to thank you for your care, sensitivity and professionalism at John's service. So many people commented how impressed they were - some even said it was the best funeral service they had ever attended!
A humanist funeral ceremony is dignified,
personal and appropriate to the person whose life is to be commemorated and celebrated. The funeral usually takes place in a crematorium, cemetery or woodland burial ground.
Increasingly people are planning funerals themselves, with the help of appropriate professionals. I have conducted funeral ceremonies in restaurant or hotel venues, and once a funeral under a large marquee in a much loved town park which was followed by a private cremation.
Or private cremations are followed by memorial services which take place in the setting of your choice and are bespoke ceremonies planned together.
Ashes scattering ceremonies can also be arranged.
'Thank you so much for such a fitting and well conducted funeral service. Gramps would have been delighted with it.'
'...May I thank you on behalf of all the family, for your kindness and professionalism throughout.'
'... moving but also uplifting...lots of positive comments. You really connected with everyone and many said how refreshing and comforting it is to know there is an alternative to a religious ceremony that has meaning and dignity.'
Plan the ceremony with my help
I will meet you to talk through the kind of ceremony you envisage, or we can communicate by phone or email to plan the ceremony. I offer suggestions, and can advise on poetry and prose, readings and
music, and assist with planning an order of service.
I will make myself available to you in the days before the funeral for advice and guidance and will ensure that the words in the ceremony are accurate and that the tone is suitable for you.
'I cannot express adequately how much you helped me. Over the past year and more so recently I have thought about how I
would be able to cope with Mark's funeral. Never in these thoughts did I think
I would have the support of someone as lovely as you, you made me feel in
control which helped me so much. So many said how they
loved the ceremony. I will always be able to
look back and remember that his funeral was exactly as I wanted it to be
and that he would have been in agreement.'
What might others think?
You will want the ceremony you choose to be right and appropriate for your loved one. You need not be concerned that anything in the ceremony might offend anyone who perhaps feels uneasy about a non-religious funeral. A quiet period of silence or music is always included for reflection or private prayer.
Humanist ceremonies focus on the life that has ended but are not in any way hostile to religious beliefs. Nor do they push humanism. Although non-religious, celebrants always aim to
create a ceremony that is inclusive and respectful of cultural traditions.
'I would like to thank you for leading my son's funeral with such panache. The
general opinion by the congregation was that it was terrific, this even voiced
by staunch Roman Catholics!'
'Most of my friends had never been to a humanist funeral and were impressed by its dignity, simplicity and feeling. One lady said she must apologise for saying this, but she had never enjoyed a funeral before and felt uplifted by the ceremony.'
The more participation there is by family and friends, the richer the ceremony. Although it can feel impossible at first, many people find they are able to stand up, sometimes in pairs, and say the words they have written or read a poem, and they feel pleased to have done so.The decision to do so can be left till the last minute and I am always happy to read for people.
We can also sing along to a recording or the organ. Hymns are not uncommon as they have cultural resonance, and often mean something to a generation brought up that way.
We can all say a secular blessing together.
'I can never thank you enough for your wonderful
presentation of the celebration for my wife. Your organisation of the Service was not only professional, but so sensitive
to all our feelings. Your kindness and patience with all the contributors was most
Script to keep
Before the funeral I devote time to preparing the ceremony with care, and sometimes to writing the tribute from the information the family has given me. After the funeral I give the family a presentation copy of the ceremony script to keep.
'Thank you so much for Friday - it was a beautiful service and a heartfelt tribute to our precious little girl. We felt some relief afterwards, and it was nice to hear everyone saying how perfect the ceremony was. You helped us put our intense feelings into words and for that we are forever grateful. We really appreciate the time you spent with us and all the work you put in to create a very personal ceremony. Thank you very much for the copies of the script.' [Baby funeral 2012]
Funerals with a difference
It is becoming more easy to arrange a funeral with a difference, and I will provide assistance and support. At the very least, you will need to book the services of a funeral director to take care of your loved one and bring them wherever you request.
There are many options. For example you can book a venue such as a hotel, pub or restaurant to hold a funeral ceremony, or hold a ceremony out of doors. (Some venues allow the coffin to be brought into the space but you need to check on this.) Once you have held the farewell ceremony in the venue, you can accompany your loved one to the crematorium or cemetery or meet the funeral director and hearse there for the committal. You can have a small private cremation and then hold a memorial service anywhere you choose, perhaps with the ashes.
The family below booked a hotel room with a conservatory space where we held the ceremony with music, tributes and poetry. Afterwards the family and all guests made their way to the nearby cemetery where we met the funeral directors and hearse for the graveside committal of the person who had died. We all returned to the hotel for refreshments.
Preparing your own humanist funeral - pre-need
Many people make advance plans for their own funeral or memorial ceremony. It takes a great deal of pressure off friends and family at a stressful time if they have clear instructions regarding wishes. There’s no set way of doing this, but it is a good idea to write down what you would like to happen and make sure that someone close knows about this or will find it easily. This is more easily done when you are well. You can also lodge a copy of your funeral plans with your solicitor, but bear in mind that by the time your will is read your funeral will probably be over.
You might like to think about the music you would like played and the poems or texts you would like to be read. You might consider writing a short personal history, mentioning the people and events that have been important to you. This can help make the funeral more meaningful for those who attend.
If you want to have a non-religious funeral or memorial ceremony conducted by a Humanist funeral celebrant, you should specify this.
I have assisted several people to make such plans and have seen the peace of mind this has brought. In several cases I have later conducted the funeral which has felt especially meaningful. If you or someone you know wishes to talk to someone who is non-religious, or wishes to plan their funeral, contact me to discuss.
Thanks and comments
I have received countless comments and thanks from families and friends over the years, and this is without doubt one of the rewarding aspects of the role.
'...It has been
a privilege to know you at this sad time for me and I do feel that I can now
move forward as I felt today I had closure.'
'We had so many people come to us and say that it
was the loveliest service they had ever attended and how proud they thought Mum
would be. It was an absolute pleasure to celebrate Mum's life and your approach and
sensitivity really did make the afternoon so very special.'
'We are unanimous in declaring that, as well as the considerable help you
gave us in advance of the day, you did a superb job of conducting
the proceedings. Your calm, unfussy manner brought
out the best in the rest of us...'
'I really just want to say a big thank you
for taking the time to meet up with us and write such a fitting tribute to my
dad and of course to take the service. Mum has had so many people phoning and
writing to say how wonderful and special the service was and that has been a
great comfort to her.'
'We all thought that your contribution was
perfect. You have a manner
which pitches it at just the right level and many people told us that
it was the best memorial service they had been to. You really helped
us to shape the day and without your input, it would not have been
nearly as good. Thank you.' [Memorial service]
'Your compassion and empathy
was palpable - so many people commented on how wonderful the service was. It
could have been anyone on that list on the website but I am so glad it was you.'
Contact & fees
contact me with queries and to find out my availability for a funeral, ashes scattering or memorial ceremony.
For a funeral, you will also need to contact a funeral director who will engage my services.
line with the Humanists UK recommended fee structure, my 2018/9 fee is £230 for a single slot funeral and £260 for a double slot. If the ceremony is not fairly local to me near Kingston in SW London, travel expenses are
charged on an individual basis.
Memorial services or ashes interment ceremonies are quoted individually and fees depend on the amount of preparation and time needed and travel expenses.
I contribute a percentage of each ceremony fee received
to Humanists UK as a levy towards celebrants’ training and quality assurance standards and to the
promotion and development of the Humanist Ceremonies network.
(Mortlake Crematorium, SW London)
A typical order of ceremony in a crematorium:
- Introductory music that is meaningful to the person or family
- Thoughts on life and death - from a non-religious perspective
- The tribute/s - the heart of the ceremony. An honest and warm outline of the life and personality of the deceased. Readings of poetry or prose may be included and contributions from family and friends are encouraged. Anecdotes and humour are most welcome!
- Private reflection - a chance to remember the person according to your own beliefs. Either in silence or accompanied by peaceful music
- Saying goodbye together - the committal: in a crematorium everyone stands, words of farewell are said, everyone perhaps says a blessing together, and the curtains close as the coffin goes from view (the coffin itself need not move unless that is what you wish)
- Or alternately, saying goodbye personally with flowers: the coffin remains on view, and you make a personal farewell by placing flowers or greenery such as a sprig of rosemary for remembrance on the coffin during reflection music or at the end of the ceremony as you leave.
- Final music that is uplifting
Burials follow the same format, but the committal happens at the graveside. Flowers or mementoes can be brought to throw into the grave in a final farewell.
exception, the praise for the whole ceremony, from the beginning to the laying of
rosemary on the coffin, was unanimous in praise. Several who attended said that
this type of service was to be held for them at their time. '
Life Goes On - Joyce Grenfell
If I should go
before the rest of you
Break not a
Nor inscribe a
Nor when I am
Speak in a
But be the
That I have
Weep if you
But life goes
So .... sing
Because You Have Lived - Anon
To laugh often and much.
To win the respect of intelligent people, and
the affection of children.
To earn the appreciation of honest critics.
To appreciate beauty.
To find the best in others.
To leave the world a bit better,
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded
Contact Rosemary on 020 8943 2941/07946465701