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Who can conduct a funeral service?

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

When organising a funeral service, one important decision to make is who will conduct the service itself. Often this is fairly easy to answer, particularly if the deceased had a faith; in which case it will probably be a religious minister. Alternatively, we can recommend celebrants locally (civil and humanist) who are used to leading a variety of services – from weddings to funerals.

While it’s not unusual for a family member or close friend to give the eulogy or speak at the service, they could actually conduct the entire funeral service. While this is quite a big undertaking, particularly if you are in grief, we have supported families who have decided to do this. That task tends to fall to somebody who is used to public speaking already.

The key thing to remember is that, on the day, you might feel more overwhelmed than you imagined you might and, while saying a few words might be okay, conducting the entire service might feel too much. You might to hand that responsibility to somebody who isn't connected emotionally.

When Shane Warne, the Australian cricketer, died recently, his funeral was conducted by television presenter and journalist Eddie McGuire. He was chosen as, in addition being a family friend, he is used to ‘big occasion’.

However, if there is someone you know who feels comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, then it might well make the whole service much more personal. Alternatively, you could split the role of celebrant between a few family members and friends – but this could take a fair amount of organisation. As ever, the choice is down to the family and whatever suits their loved one.

Many of the funerals we organise at Tester & Jones still involve a religious leader of some sort and we have good relationships with many ministers locally. We find that even if the person who has died and their family aren’t regular churchgoers, there is something comforting in having a religious aspect to the service.

For most religions there is a set order of service for funerals and certain prayers and readings that are traditionally included. As we have discussed in a previous blog, people often find that following traditional rituals at this time can be helpful.

Whether the minister knew the family or not, they are likely to visit for a chat about the service. If they are expected to write and read the eulogy, then they will want to find out which elements of that person’s life the family would like included.

An added advantage of using a religious leader to conduct a funeral is that they typically provide some element of ongoing support following the funeral – whether that’s a simple phone call or a more formal invitation to attend an event.

There are also celebrants who are experienced in conducting a funeral service and these can either be civil celebrants or humanist celebrants.

Civil celebrants are not part of any religion or belief system and can perform services with no religious content at all, or with some religious content such as prayers and readings.

Humanist funerals represent a completely non-religious service, so will not make reference to any religious ideas.

It takes certain skills to officiate at any sort of large event – notably being confident with public speaking but also an ability to put people at ease. Interesting, Carol Smillie, who used to a television presenter gave up this career a few years ago to become a humanist celebrant in her native Scotland (under her married name Knight).

She explains: “After a long career in broadcasting, becoming a Humanist Celebrant felt like a natural step. I am obviously used to public speaking, writing scripts and meeting so many different people. No two days are ever the same in this job, and having lost both my parents many years ago, it was incredibly important to me that their own unique personalities and stories were told at their funerals, not only that, but it gave everyone a chance to smile, as well as shed a tear.”

A celebrant – and we work with a variety - will meet with the family to talk about their loved one and any wishes they have for the service and will be open to personalising the service to reflect your loved one’s character.

The choice of who to conduct a funeral service is a completely personal choice and we will be there to advise and support you.

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