Planning a funeral is a difficult moment in many people’s lives. It comes with lots of questions and choices to make on behalf of a loved one. You may have lots of help and support, or you may be doing it on your own. Either way, it’s not easy. Here we have put together information about humanist funerals to help you decide if this is the right option for you.
What is a humanist funeral?
A humanist funeral is a non-religious and personal funeral ceremony. A humanist ceremony is a funeral service led by a celebrant that is both a dignified farewell and a celebration of a life. It recognises the profound sadness of saying goodbye, whilst celebrating the life and legacy of a loved one.
A humanist funeral focuses on the person who has died, the life they led, and the relationships they forged. It is based on the humanist perspective that every life is individual and valuable. It offers a meaningful way to honour the life of a loved one.
The humanist funeral ceremony is conducted by a humanist celebrant. It is both a celebration of a life and a dignified, personal farewell. It’s the perfect option for families who want a sincere, personal reflection on the life of their loved ones.
This can be especially important if the person who died wasn’t particularly religious. For them, a religious funeral could feel like it’s not staying true to who they were in life. Here a humanist funeral may be a more suitable tribute to your friend or family member.
What does a humanist funeral celebrant do?
A humanist funeral celebrant works with you to write and deliver a fitting funeral ceremony for your loved one.
They work closely with family members or close friends to write a personalised tribute. They can also help to plan the other aspects of the ceremony, such as music, readings, and time for reflection. They will be a support and a guide for you during this difficult time.
Over the course of several hours, at a time that suits you, they find out about the person who has died – their story, their personality, their likes and dislikes. They then write a unique and personal non-religious funeral ceremony based on this information. Before the day the script is sent to the family or friends for approval, so you can have peace of mind that the ceremony will be just as you wish.
The humanist funeral ceremony itself
The funeral ceremony is a chance to honour and say goodbye to your loved one. On the day of the funeral or memorial service your celebrant will conduct the ceremony, including welcoming and thanking your guests. If friends and relatives don’t feel comfortable speaking in public, they will deliver all the readings as well as the tribute you have created together.
The tone and format of a humanist funeral is entirely up to the organisers, and it will be a true reflection of the life of the deceased. Many humanist funerals choose to remember people with an upbeat or positive celebration of a life. Others can take a more solemn tone, appropriate to the deceased and the feelings of their family and loved ones.
There will often be time as part of the funeral for a silent reflection on the life of the deceased. This time is inclusive of people from all backgrounds. People with religious beliefs will often take this opportunity to say a silent prayer if they wish to. Non-religious people can simply use this time to think about some happy memories of their loved one.
Families receive a printed copy of the tribute and an invitation for us to host the tribute in our online archive.
Where are humanist funerals and memorials held?
Most humanist funeral ceremonies are conducted at a crematorium, cemetery, or green burial site. However, as funerals have no legal status, you are free to hold a ceremony wherever you choose. You could opt for a location which was special to the deceased or somewhere convenient for people to gather.
A memorial ceremony can be held anywhere: at home, in the garden, in a park or woodland, at the beach, in a theatre or community centre – anywhere of relevance to the people gathering to pay tribute to the person who died.
What about a ceremony following a direct cremation?
Currently, there is a growing interest in direct cremations. This is where the body of the deceased is cremated without the need for a coffin (and often with no one in attendance).
A memorial ceremony may follow a direct cremation. In these instances, instead of the casket, the ashes may be present – or in some cases, a photo of the deceased. The memorial ceremony following a direct cremation has the flexibility of being able to take place at any time after the death. This makes them popular with families who come together from all over the world and who may not all be able to gather immediately following a death.
You can also hold a memorial service on an anniversary after the funeral, should you wish.
Are humanist funerals a new thing?
No, humanist funerals have been around for a long time and are becoming more well-known. It’s likely you may have been to a humanist funeral or know someone who has. With over half of people in the UK now saying they have no religion, it’s no surprise that as many as one in seven people already know a humanist funeral is for them.
Humanists UK’s members pioneered humanist funerals in 1896. Today, our celebrants are trained and have support from our network, as well as benefitting from the wealth of experience within the organisation.
In recent years in the UK, humanist funerals have become much more popular. In fact, they are becoming the mainstream choice. We estimate that, in England alone, over 1 million people have now attended a humanist funeral.
Do you have to be a humanist to have a humanist funeral?
Humanist funerals and memorials are suitable for anyone who would be most appropriately remembered with a personal, non-religious ceremony.
The emphasis in a humanist funeral is always fully and completely on the deceased – the life they led, the relationships and stories and quirks that defined their identity. This makes a humanist funeral appropriate for anyone, including religious friends and family members.
What is humanism?
There are many ways of defining humanism, but broadly speaking, it’s a ‘worldview’. It’s not like a religion – instead, it’s a label that can apply to a range of views held by non-religious people who want to lead a good, ethical life. Basically, humanists are people who shape our lives in the here and now, because we believe this is the only life we have.
Humanism is an approach to life shared by millions of people who choose to put emphasis on the important things in life, like the value of family and the community, and always being kind and tolerant towards others.
Some people identify with humanist beliefs without even realising. The quiz on the Humanists UK website can give you a sense of how closely your views match up with humanism.
Planning a humanist funeral
If you would like to discuss planning a humanist funeral, your local celebrant will be able to help. You can find a funeral celebrant near you with our easy-to-use map.
Further humanist funeral resources
- Humanist memorial ceremonies
- What makes a good funeral?
- Planning a funeral during lockdown
- Funeral ceremony ideas and inspiration
- Poems of love for a humanist funeral
- Uplifting and humorous poems for a humanist funeral
- Frequently asked questions
- Planning your own funeral
- It’s time to talk about your funeral wishes