Celebrant-led funerals are on the increase. Whilst church and religious funerals are still right for many, they are no longer the only option. For those who are not religious or for whom a church or religious service wouldn’t feel fitting, there is now more choice when it comes to saying farewell. We spoke to Jane Blackman, Humanist Celebrant, who shared some of the reasons why more people are choosing a celebrant led funeral, and what to consider if you’re planning one.
What appeals most about celebrant ceremonies is that they offer a much more personalised service. With a celebrant, there is no ‘set script’ or ‘rules’ about what should be said or what must not be included. A celebrant service gives a great deal of freedom and flexibility; honouring the person who has died in a way that feels ‘right’ for them and their family.
Choosing the right celebrant
The two main categories of celebrant are Humanist and Independent, although others such as Pagan and Civil exist too.
This group are highly trained and accredited, affiliated to Humanists UK. Humanist celebrants have no religious belief and will lead non-religious and very personalised ceremonies centred around the person they are created for. Most will provide an all-inclusive service, welcoming and respecting everyone, no matter whether they have religious faith or none, and are happy to include a moment of quiet reflection to accommodate those with a religious belief who may wish to spend a little time in private prayer. If the person who has died was not a churchgoer (even if they had some sort of ‘belief’) then a Humanist ceremony will very likely be fitting. It will focus on a person’s life, personality, the things that were important to them including their loves and passions to tell their ‘story’.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of Humanist celebrants won’t veto religious content. If a family wishes to include a hymn (for the sake of tradition or fond memories) or a reading that includes religious words (such angels or heaven) then it’s certainly possible as long as it’s not an ‘act of worship’.
Independent celebrants are likely to feel very comfortable leading an ‘act of worship’ as well as offering a personalised and bespoke ceremony. Many independent celebrants have religious faith themselves and will accommodate prayers, psalms and bible readings. There are also those with no religious belief who are still happy to lead a prayer – it’s always just best to ask. These celebrants don’t have to have specific training, qualification or accreditation, although many do choose to train.
Celebrants naturally vary in their style and personality – and come from all walks of life. They have a vast array of life experiences, skills, beliefs and backgrounds and there are a growing number to choose from. Finding a celebrant that you feel very comfortable with is always the best first step!
What’s involved when arranging a service with a celebrant?
If you’re working with a funeral director, they will typically have a list of celebrants they regularly work with and recommend. If you’d like to choose a celebrant yourself, you can – a quick online search will show those in your area. It’s fine to research, contact, chat with and decide on the celebrant that feels best for you and your situation and any good funeral director will be supportive. Most celebrants are likely to be happy to take the time to speak to anyone considering a celebrant ceremony with no obligation, to answer any questions and to see if there’s a ‘good fit’.
Once your celebrant is chosen, it’s important to arrange a planning meeting or phone call. In Jane’s opinion it’s always best to meet face to face, if distance and time allows, as it helps to share all the information needed to create a very personalised and meaningful ceremony that reflects the person, sensitively and fittingly.
A good celebrant will take the time to meet and speak with you for as long as you need but a funeral planning meeting usually takes one or two hours. Most people like to meet at home but the neutral space of a quiet corner of a café or pub is sometimes preferred. Many celebrants will accommodate this.
Once all the information and wishes are gathered, the celebrant will write the ceremony. Some families like to see what will be said in advance and others prefer not to. Either way, the service wording will be finalised and a script created for the funeral. The celebrant will then be there to welcome you and should conduct the service with warmth and sincerity.
What’s included in a celebrant-led ceremony?
There are no hard and fast ‘rules’ and there should be no set structure with a celebrant-led funeral or celebration of life. The service can be very traditional or extremely original – and anything in between! However, it’s usual to include music, poetry, readings, book extracts, eulogies or tributes, memories and stories, anecdotes and perhaps a visual tribute, such as a slideshow of photographs set to music.
A simple structure for a ceremony might follow this format:
- Entry with music
- Welcome and opening words
- Thoughts of the person’s life
- Tributes from family members or friends
- Time for reflection with music
- The Committal or Words of Farewell
- Closing words
- Music to leave
Celebrant led funerals can offer the opportunity to create a much more personal experience for friends and family to honour the life of a loved one. A good celebrant will be committed to providing a unique and personal service which provides comfort to everyone involved.
More about Jane Blackman
As a Humanist Celebrant I’ve been leading funerals, memorials, interments of ashes and celebrations of life since 2014. I also conduct weddings and baby naming ceremonies. Over the years, requests for my ceremonies have increased substantially, as a result of people learning that they can do things in a way that much more authentically reflects the life and character of the person the ceremony is about. The tailor-made approach is increasingly opted for and its always my honour to provide that bespoke service, to the families and clients I work with.
I’m only one of the many celebrants based in Sussex – and we are all quite different. I feel extremely privileged in my role as a Humanist Funeral Celebrant. It can be a lot of hard work, with long hours and of course very emotional at times, but it’s a job that brings huge satisfaction, knowing that I am assisting at a crucial and often challenging time, honouring precious lives in a way that feels fitting for the individual person and their family – and along the way, learning about some amazing lives – people who have made an enormous, positive difference during their time in the world.
Having conducted over 700 ceremonies (at the time of writing), I’m very experienced in the creation and leading of services, but I am still learning – and that will never stop! There are always different ways of doing things and keeping my practice fresh and client focused is my ongoing goal in this important work.
Before becoming a celebrant I was a Headteacher and an Education Consultant. I’m very much a people person; I love working with folk from all walks of life, from a range of cultures and with differing beliefs – learning their unique stories, their loves and passions and the impact and influence that people have had on others. I hear so many amazing tales of achievement, of kindness and compassion, of struggles and over-coming adversity – of good lives, well-lived and of challenging journeys. To celebrate each life fittingly with respect and appreciation, is a huge honour. And no matter how unremarkable a life may seem on the surface or how incredible it was in the eyes of others, no matter how long or how short a life was, there is always a unique story, and it’s always my privilege to learn that and tell it with compassion.
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