How to Plan and Perform a Funeral Ceremony

A funeral is many things to many people. For some, it's cathartic and can help them process their feelings of loss, however complicated. For some it's a chance to say farewell to a loved one, and more still it's an opportunity to provide comfort and support for others involved in the life of the deceased.

If you have been asked to perform a funeral, there is of course the consideration of the deceased person's spiritual needs and making sure that the proper observances, rituals, words and ceremonies are observed. The deceased person may have left instructions for specific items to be addressed. Of course much of the funeral rites and eulogy are for the benefit of the living. A well-performed funeral can be a powerful moment of healing for all involved. All of this, as well as the complexity of funeral rites and traditions from denomination to denomination, makes presiding over a funeral a multilayered event. Therefore, proper instruction and learning is essential.

Learning and Instruction

We understand that nobody performs a funeral without first preparing. It's just something too complicated and sensitive for a novice to handle. Toward this end, we provide in-depth training on the many elements that make up a funeral. Our complete how-to guide can be an important resource no matter where you are in your ministry.

We offer funeral scripts that can be adapted and modified to fit the circumstances of each occasion. The more you learn the less likely you are to encounter situations that are uncomfortable or even surprising to you. Experience is a great teacher, but so is careful listening and study. There are many resources available online and through books to help you learn as much as possible.

The Planning

Without planning, a funeral can fail to establish and honor any real connection to the departed and their loved ones. Therefore, before the ceremony it is important for the presiding minister to collect an appropriate amount of relevant material about the deceased. This of course is easier if the minister is closely acquainted with the person who has passed. In every case, though, there is information to gather to represent the needs and wishes of the deceased and the living. Here are some things to consider when gathering information.

Ordained Minister performs funeral service
  • How religious was the deceased?
  • Are there any religious texts or passages that were meaningful to the deceased?
  • Did they have any notable accomplishments?
  • What is the family history of the deceased?
  • What were the personality traits or characteristics of the deceased?
  • What is the education or work history?

A skillful and well-trained minister can take this information and weave it into a meaningful service, as well as use the information when talking to family members. All of this can provide a consoling atmosphere for those looking for comfort. If you are the minister, remember to focus on anecdotes and stories that bring about a smile or warm feeling to those in attendance. Just as importantly, steer clear of distressing events that could provoke pain. A funeral checklist can be a helpful tool to consult and make sure there isn't something you have overlooked.

Crafting a Eulogy

For many, a well-prepared eulogy may be the most memorable moment of a funeral. It is a sensitive document and needs to be carefully prepared. If you are fairly new to this tradition, it is a good idea to study sample eulogies and use these as a framework to prepare your own. Use the sample as a guideline for length and tone and look for places to customize it to your subject.

You can add experiences, favorite passages and stories about the deceased to give it a personal touch. The more you know about the individual, the easier it will be for you to converse with the people who have come to pay their respects.

Make sure to read the eulogy out loud several times to determine whether everything flows nicely. Make adjustments as necessary. As you read, consider the thoughts and feelings of those present, and remember you are speaking about a person that meant a lot to them. Keep practicing until you have the pace and tone down perfectly and everything sounds natural.

Performing the Ceremony

Each ceremony is unique, and many separate elements make up what is broadly referred to as the funeral. There may be a visitation, a viewing, a cremation, a burial and a gathering after the burial. On the practical side, you should know the all the events of the ceremony, even for aspects in which you yourself do not participate. Another important consideration is the level of religiosity that is appropriate, given the person's life and the wishes of the survivors. Above all, you want your role to be spiritually relevant to all.

When it comes to funeral rites and traditions there is a large range of possibilities to consider. It is important to familiarize yourself with as many rites as possible, and to learn many of the traditional prayers that might be spoken at a funeral. Make sure your message is in sync with the faith traditions of the family.

Grieving family at funeral service

More and more, people are interested in non-religious or humanistic funeral rites. Try to acquaint yourself with this growing practice. You will be able to find examples of humanistic funeral services and eulogies online and through books at the library. It's possible that instead of scripture readings it may be more appropriate to read from poetry or literature, and the music selection could include popular songs. You should be able to utilize online resources that will help you identify moving passages from these sources. This is also where listening closely to friends and family members can provide benefits.

Listening and Communicating

It is certainly important to listen closely with all friends and family members. From them, you should get a good sense of the tone of the funeral ceremony. Another important resource is the funeral director. As a common courtesy, you should reach out to the director, for he or she will be able to provide you with very valuable information. A visit to the site of the funeral can alert you to the size of the place, where you will stand and even where the bathrooms and drinking fountains are. The more you learn the more at ease you will be and the more you will be a help to others.

A well-performed funeral by a caring minister can be a great source of comfort to loved ones. It's unlikely that anyone has ever been an expert at presiding over their first funeral ceremony, but preparation and empathy go a long way.

Paying last respects at memorial service