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Funeral Services for the “Unchurched”

How to create a meaningful and spiritual service

Funeral service is steeped in tradition. Beginning with the dignified removal from the place of death to the ceremony of lowering the casket, we follow the customs of the past. The same can be said for the religious service we practice. Religious services of all denominations follow many of the same orders they did hundreds of years ago. However, in the 21st century, less and less people identify with any one religion or spiritual path. As we look into the future, this number will tend to increase. So where does that leave funerals? Today we will talk about many options for a meaningful service for those who don’t subscribe to traditional beliefs.

Utilize a Celebrant

Fewer families are choosing to incorporate religious rites into the funeral services but are still looking for something spiritual and to encompass the life they are celebrating. This is where a celebrant comes in. Celebrants can work with each family to create a personalized service to reflect your loved one’s life. They will spend time with the family, either in person or over the phone to learn details that may not be readily available in an obituary. Together with their resources, they often use music, readings, poems, and stories to put together a beautiful service.

Skip the Scriptures

While scripture readings are not exclusive to church services, for many they do hold that relationship. For those who don’t subscribe to a particular religious belief, scriptures might not resonate as well to memorialize their loved one. With the vast amount of literature and writing available, there are many alternatives to turn to. The lyrics of a song, a poem, or even an excerpt from a favorite book could be appropriate to capture their beliefs and relationship with the world.

Choose a Unique Location

Churches and funeral homes can feel too formal or ritualistic for some when looking for a place to celebrate their loved one. In fact, less than 50% of all Americans claim to belong to a church and attend regularly. In these cases, it may be best to offer an alternate location. If the decedent was a nature lover, a nearby park would give a beautiful setting, or a local restaurant where friends and family can gather for a meal following the service. Today, more than ever, people are thinking outside the box on how they can honor their loved one’s wishes. A simple change in location might make those attending more comfortable and give everyone a sense of peace in knowing their loved ones wishes we followed.

Create Your Own Rituals

There’s no hard and fast rule book to a funeral, nothing that says you must do exactly this. So why not think outside the box and create your own rituals. Families today want personalized services, and the more so the better. Arrange a special time during the services for a personalized ritual that invites all in attendance to partake. This could be as simple as lighting a candle or placing a special object with the casket or urn if one is present. You might even arrange for a non-religious token for those in attendance to bring home to keep them connected beyond the service. Once you open the door to “non-traditional” ideas, the opportunities are almost endless.

In 2018, less than 50% of people surveyed in the National Funeral Directors Association Consumer Awareness & Preferences Report said that religion was an important part of a funeral. As the years progress, this number will likely continue to decrease as we see a shift in society away from organized and regular attendance at religious institutions. This does not mean we cannot create a meaningful and beautiful funeral service to honor the life lived. There are many non-secular ways to incorporate special and personalized ideas into a funeral service while still maintaining the ritual that is the funeral and bring peace to survivors.

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