In years gone by religion was an expected part of any funeral. However, many people are now opting to move away from the more traditional religious funerals, instead choosing to focus on remembering the person and celebrating their life. As an alternative to religious funerals, a non-religious funeral service allows family and friends to pay tribute to their loved one without needing to include readings from religious texts, hymns or prayers.
How to arrange a non-religious funeral service
Whilst non-religious funerals don’t adhere to any particular traditions or customs, they typically follow a similar format to traditional religious services.
Taking time to reflect on the individual and their life will help you to arrange a fitting service. Your loved one may have left behind formal instructions as part of their will or could have purchased a prepaid funeral plan and documented their final wishes. If they didn’t make their wishes known before they died, it may be worth asking other family members and friends if they have any recollections about the individual’s beliefs and attitudes towards their send off.
Your funeral director will have had experience of dealing with both religious and non-religious funerals. They will be able to offer advice and suggestions and help to recommend a celebrant, if needed.
Choosing a type of funeral
If your loved one didn’t have any religious beliefs, your choice of funeral won’t be limited as it may be with various religions and cultures. Whether you choose a burial or cremation, your funeral director can cater for any type of funeral and will be there to make all of the arrangements on your behalf.
Who can officiate at a non-religious funeral?
There are a number of options if you decide to arrange a non-religious funeral for a loved one. Funeral celebrants can conduct both religious and non-religious funerals, and they will often help you create the order of service. If you would like to make the funeral even more personal, you could ask a family member or close friend of the deceased to lead the service.
A humanist celebrant is someone who writes and conducts humanist (non-religious) ceremonies. The aim of a humanist funeral is to focus on the person who had died and the life they led – not on the idea of an afterlife or on religion. Humanist Ceremonies™ is a network of trained and accredited humanist celebrants, from all walks of life, who will work closely with families to deliver a service that focuses on their loved one.
Civil funeral ceremonies
A civil funeral is based on the wishes and values of the deceased and their family, rather than the beliefs of the person conducting the funeral. In the same way as humanist funerals, civil funerals keep the focus of the service on the person who has died, with a style and tone that fits their personality and their memory. The Institute of Civil Funerals offers advice and support for finding a celebrant.
Venues for a non-religious funeral
A non-religious funeral service can be held at any of the following venues:
• Cemetery chapel
• Woodland burial ground
• Community centre
• Your own home
If you are holding a wake after the funeral service, there are a number of venues to choose from. Some of the most popular locations include pubs, social clubs, sports clubs, and your own home. You may need to book the venue in advance and let guests know where it is being held and at what time.
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Non-religious funeral songs
As funerals become more tailored to celebrate the life of the deceased, many families opt for modern songs to be played during the funeral service. It can be a very personal choice to make, though there is no right or wrong decision.
Some of the most popular songs for a non-religious funeral include:
• Angels – Robbie Williams
• Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
• You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban
• My Way – Frank Sinatra
• Supermarket Flowers – Ed Sheeran
• In the Arms of an Angel – Sarah McLachlan
Personalising a non-religious funeral
Choosing a non-religious funeral will give you the flexibility to personalise it in whatever way you see fit. There are a number of choices you can make to help remember your loved one’s life story in a unique way.
Alternative funeral transport
An alternative hearse or mode of transport can be a fitting tribute for someone who has passed away. It can help make your loved one’s final journey even more personal. Whether you choose a horse-drawn hearse, campervan, or even a fire-engine, your local Dignity Funeral Director will accommodate all of these unique requests.
Colourful and picture coffins
Colourful coffins and picture coffins are a relatively new trend. You may wish to take inspiration from a loved one’s favourite place to visit, their favourite sport, or even a personal photograph.
Funeral dress code
When deciding on the dress code for your loved one’s funeral, you don’t have to conform to traditional funeral attire such as black formal clothing. Instead, you could encourage guests to wear vibrant colours or simply stick to one colour which may have been your loved one’s favourite.
You may wish to remember the life of your loved one with charitable donations in lieu of flowers. There may have been a specific charity that was important to the deceased, so make sure you take this into account when choosing where the money will be donated to.
Peace of mind with a prepaid funeral plan
The best way to make sure you get the funeral you want is by taking out a prepaid funeral plan.
Generally, adding special requests to your funeral plan, whether big or small, is simple and straightforward.
Radio Times has partnered with Dignity to offer a choice of four Prepaid Funeral Plans. Dignity introduced the UK’s first funeral plan in 1985. Since then, Dignity has helped nearly one million people^ people plan for their funeral in advance, more than any other provider.
With Dignity’s range of prepaid funeral plans, you can make as many special requests as you like. Small requests, such as specifying a particular poem to be read can be made at no extra cost, whilst some, such as a memorial will inevitably incur additional charges, as there are third party costs to pay.
Any additional costs incurred will either need to be covered by your loved ones when time comes, or you can add a contribution towards these requests as part of your plan*.
By adding special requests, your loved ones need not worry about trying to guess what you would have liked – you will have already told them, and left instructions that are included in your funeral plan documents. It could also prevent disagreements or any overspending. Understandably, loved ones often go above and beyond honouring memories, when in fact it’s the small touches that can matter most. If you change your mind at any time, Dignity won’t charge you to update your wishes.
• Request your free guide online or call 0800 033 4717 today, quoting RAD165ND, and find out how you can protect you and your family from funeral costs, which have risen faster than inflation in recent years**.
• When you receive your guide, choose the plan that best suits your needs and budget.
• Call Dignity at any time if you have any questions and they will be happy to talk through the plan or payment options with you.
^Dignity plc Annual Report and Accounts 2019. "nearly one million customers" refers to the total number of people who have made funeral arrangements with Dignity in advance.
*It is not possible to make additional contributions with the Limited Plan.
**2011 - 2020 Matter Communications independent research.
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