Planning a funeral for a non-religious person—even if you are also a non-religious person—can be a challenging task. This is largely because you simply don't have many examples of what a secular funeral should look like. The majority of people embrace one religion or another, so chances are good that the majority of funerals that you have attended or have seen depicted on television and movies are religious in some way. It's no surprise that you can be left feeling as if there is no guidance for planning a secular funeral. Here are a few tips that can help.
Where Can You Hold a Secular Funeral?
If the deceased is being buried, you can hold the funeral graveside, or you can make use of the funeral home's facilities before traveling to the cemetery for the committal. Most funeral homes offer facilities that can be used by mourners of any religion or no religion; religious decorations are usually removable and can be taken down for your loved one's funeral.
If the deceased is being cremated and you're not planning on holding a viewing, you can have a memorial service anywhere you like. You could hold it in someone's home, outdoors in a park or other public place, or in a rented hall. You can also still use the funeral home's facilities or any location where the ashes are to be interred. In no case are you required to use a church or other religious location.
Who Can Officiate a Secular Funeral?
Unlike weddings, funerals serve no legal function, so there are no requirements to be a funeral celebrant. If you like, you can officiate the funeral yourself, or another friend or family member can do the job. You can also choose not to have any one specific person lead the ceremony, and just let allow the event to proceed organically.
If you feel more comfortable with the idea of an experienced funeral celebrant, however, you have a few options. Unitarian Universalist churches embrace all faiths and people of no faith as well, so if you have a Unitarian Universalist church near you, you may want to check with their clergy to see if they provide secular funeral services. If that's not an option, look into local branches of different secular humanist associations in your area—they may have a list of secular celebrants that they can refer you to. Your funeral director can also be a good resource to help you find someone to lead your service.
What Does a Secular Funeral Look Like?
This is actually the simplest part of planning a secular funeral—it usually looks a lot like a religious funeral, but without prayers, readings from religious texts, or religious music. Whoever is conducting the ceremony will welcome the mourners, and may briefly explain that the service is secular and that there won't be religious readings or formal prayers. Instead of religious readings, you may choose to read poetry or philosophical reflections on life and death. You'll give mourners a chance to share their memories of and thoughts about the deceased, and if the body is present, you may hold a viewing or have the mourners be present at the committal into the grave. Then the officiant will deliver closing remarks. Instead of religious music, you can incorporate secular music that was meaningful to the deceased.
In deference to mourners who might be religious, you may also want to include a few moments of silence so that people who choose to pray can do so silently. If you like, once the funeral is over, you can hold a reception so that close friends and family members can spend time reminiscing and supporting each other.
Because there are so few examples of secular funerals, this is the perfect time to provide an example. Go with your instincts and plan a ceremony that you believe honors the memory of your lost loved one. You can't go wrong with that, and you may give someone else a template when it's their turn to wonder how to plan a secular funeral.