New funeral guidelines issued: live streaming, delayed memorials, and gestures to replace hugging

23 March, 2020

Humanists UK has facilitated new industry-wide Coronavirus guidelines for funeral celebrants, encouraging celebrants to hold live video streaming of cremations and private ‘in home’ memorials, no handling paper such as scripts and song sheets, and new gestures to replace hugging and kissing between mourners.

The guidelines, published by the Funeral Celebrancy Council and issued by Humanists UK to its own celebrants today, have been drawn up to make sure funerals can be conducted in a way that will support grieving families at the same time as preventing the spread of Covid-19.

The law stipulates that you can only leave your home to attend a funeral if it is for a member of your household, a close family member, or – if the deceased does not have either of these – then a friend may attend.

The guidelines also encourage celebrants to inform families and clients on digital alternatives to a traditional ceremony. These include: conducting family visits by phone or video call, minimum numbers of essential attendees plus webcasting; an online ceremony they can attend in real-time, being able to keep a recording; pre-recording of the ceremony on video and audio to provide to the family for dissemination at their discretion; and a short direct cremation live-streamed with a memorial ceremony, which may include interment of ashes, then held at a future date.

Celebrants will encourage mourners not to hug, kiss, or handshake and instead ‘role model other compassionate methods such as the right hand over the heart or a nod of a head’. It states: ‘Do not shake hands or hug people, however natural it may feel. You are endangering others with what seems like a caring act.’

It also says to advise families to only have ‘essential attendees’ at funerals and that they must obey social distancing rules. Song sheets are advised against, with lyrics to be relayed on screen.

Humanist celebrants conduct over 10,000 non-religious funerals every year in the UK and Humanists UK is preparing more of its celebrants to conduct funerals digitally with many already reporting they are holding live-streaming of funerals with families and loved ones gathering privately in their own homes to mourn.

In recent days Humanists UK has sent communications to funeral directors asking them to be as flexible as possible to ensure funerals can go ahead. It has asked for funeral directors to facilitate ceremony streaming and recording requests, arranging for stand-in celebrants if one has to self-isolate, facilitating planning for cancelled memorials and any other reasonable requests by celebrants on behalf of deceased’s families.

Humanists UK Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo, said: ‘We are asking our humanist funeral celebrants to follow these guidelines which contain important new advice on restricting gatherings at funerals to essential guests only and to encourage digital alternatives, whether that be live-streaming or a direct cremation – where families can have their personal, bespoke ceremonies at a later date. Each situation may be different depending on each person’s expressed needs and wishes but our main priority is ensuring that we support bereaved families to say farewell to their loved one in a personal and meaningful way, while still following the guidelines to keep people safe.

‘We are also urging the Government to issue specific advice for the funeral industry to bring clarity across the sector. Government guidelines on, for example, the maximum number of people who can physically attend funerals would help the industry to avoid putting people at risk.’

The Funeral Celebrancy Council’s Independent celebrant rep, Emma Curtis, said: ‘Over the last week funeral celebrants around the country have felt a great deal of anxiety. The Funeral Celebrancy Council has responded swiftly to issue clear guidelines to funeral celebrants as a coherent approach to help protect, not only the health and welfare of the bereaved people we serve, but also our fellow professionals, and wider society. We recognise the situation is dynamic, and that there may well be a need to update the guidelines as matters progress.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293. For requests to speak with funeral celebrants on how they are managing funerals, please contact Casey on the above details.

Read the guidelines.

More about Humanists UK

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

More about the Funeral Celebrancy Council:

The Funeral Celebrancy Council is composed of established Funeral Director associations and celebrant training providers within the funeral sector, working together for the first time. It was formed to encourage best practice amongst the growing number of funeral celebrants working in an unregulated field. All organisations on the council have an equal say. The organisations represented are: Humanists UK, Institute of Civil Funerals, Greenfuse, Civil Ceremonies, National Association of Funeral Directors, SAIF, and the Good Funeral Guide. The representative for independent celebrants is Emma Curtis.