At a funeral service or ceremony, friends and family gather together to remember, pay tribute to and say goodbye to someone special to them. The person who leads this ceremony is the funeral officiant.
For a religious funeral, that person could be a priest, imam, rabbi or other faith leader. However, if you don’t want a religious funeral, a professional humanist celebrant can plan and deliver a unique and meaningful funeral ceremony, centred around the life of the person who has died.
Here we explain what a humanist funeral celebrant is; how to find a celebrant; and how they can support you before, during and after a funeral service.
Who are humanist funeral celebrants?
Humanist funeral celebrants come from all walks of life and almost any background you can imagine. For example, there are celebrants with professional experience as teachers, actors, scientists, healthcare workers, police officers, cooks or civil servants.
As well as all receiving the same rigorous training and ongoing support from Humanists UK, all Humanist Ceremonies funeral celebrants share the belief that every person is unique and valuable. They believe that we each have one life only, to care for each other and the world around us. These beliefs are reflected in their approach to planning personalised funeral ceremonies with kindness and empathy.
How can a humanist funeral celebrant help plan a funeral?
It all starts with a conversation. Or several conversations. Your celebrant will meet with you so that they can learn about the life and legacy of the person who you will be remembering, and how you would like the ceremony to be.
This conversation will help your celebrant plan a bespoke ceremony which captures the life, personality and interests of the person who has died. They will ask you about any readings, music, tributes or symbolic actions – like tying ribbons or messages to the coffin – that you might want to include. It is a collaborative process. If you’re stuck for ideas, your celebrant can share suggestions from their experience.
A humanist funeral service is inclusive of everyone, no matter what faith or beliefs they hold. Your celebrant will include a moment for personal reflection, so anyone who wants to make a silent prayer can do so. And, although a humanist celebrant won’t lead an act of worship, as it would be inauthentic, they can find a way to include a religious reading or a hymn in the ceremony, if it had cultural significance for the person who died.
Your funeral celebrant will help you set the tone you want for the service – formal or laid back, solemn and serious, or with a lighter touch. They will then write a script which weaves together the different elements of the ceremony with the story of the person who has died. They’ll share this script with you in advance, for you to make sure that it is accurate, and so that you know exactly what to expect on the day.
Your funeral celebrant will also be able to help with any questions you have about cremation or burial procedure, especially if you have not organised a funeral yourself before, so that you can feel confident that every aspect of the day will go smoothly.
What does a humanist funeral celebrant do at the funeral itself?
Your celebrant will coordinate the funeral ceremony on the day. This includes welcoming people to the service and ensuring that any readers or musicians are prepared for their roles. They”ll also work closely with the funeral director to make sure the beginning and end of the ceremony go smoothly.
In the ceremony itself, there will often be tributes and eulogies to the person who has died, although it’s up to you whether family or friends speak as part of the ceremony, or whether you’d like your celebrant to lead the whole event. Your celebrant will support you whatever you choose. They’ll also make sure that everything flows well and keeps to time.
After the ceremony, many people appreciate receiving a presentation copy of the final script from their celebrant to treasure and read again in their own time.
How do I find a humanist funeral celebrant?
When you are planning a funeral, you might want to talk to a few different funeral celebrants to find someone who is the right fit for you and for the kind of funeral service you would like.
You can ask your funeral director to recommend an accredited Humanist Ceremonies celebrant, or use our map to find one in your local area. There are Humanist Ceremonies funeral celebrants in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.