I need to organise a funeral. What happens now?
The person who has died may have left a paragraph in their Will describing the sort of funeral arrangements they hoped for. Naturally, the family will want to keep to such arrangements as far as possible.
The funeral director plays a very important part in all these arrangements and will want to know if the funeral is to be in the parish church or if the vicar is to take the service in the crematorium. Funeral directors know the local clergy, the local cemeteries and the crematoria. As part of a national network of funeral directors, they can, if necessary, give advice on funerals in other parts of the country, as well as on costs and fees.
If one of the local clergy is to be asked to take the service, this should be done before any other funeral arrangements are made to make sure one is free and available. If the priest did not know the dead person, then it would help to provide some details, especially if there is to be a funeral address, or eulogy.
Parish clergy regard the taking of funerals as an important part of their work. They give a lot of time to visiting families, comforting those who are facing loss, finding out what service they want to use and helping them to arrange it.
What sort of decisions do I have to make?
The Funeral address (Eulogy)
The clergy will contact the next of kin as soon as they have received official notice of a funeral from a funeral director. If you are the next of kin, they will make arrangements to meet with you to plan a funeral service that they will conduct on your behalf.
In many cases the clergy will not know the person who has died and they will want to know more about them in order to personalise the service. Of course, it’s impossible to say everything about the life of another person in a funeral service, much though we’d want to. The clergy will need your help to prepare a ‘eulogy’, an address or tribute which offers to God those elements of someone’s past life for which we will remain thankful in the future. This might include some brief biographical detail of the person who has died, make mention of their hobbies and interests and try to describe the kind of person they were.
The eulogy should be prepared in consideration of everyone that might be expected to attend the service and recognise both the variety of ways a person is known (colleague, friend, relative, loved one) and the common bond of honourable intentions that brings mourners together to pay their respects. Most importantly, the eulogy will try to talk about the person who has died in the way they themselves would want to be remembered.
The clergy have each prepared many hundreds of funeral addresses and are experienced in drawing out the kinds of thoughts, sentiments and memories that count.
A Family tribute
At some services a relative or family member will offer their personal experiences and reflections on the life of the person who has died. An essential part of the clergy’s work at a funeral service is to offer consolation to the bereaved. There are times when those in mourning will want to do that between themselves, and we are able to assist family members in preparing a tribute for inclusion in the service, alongside the priest’s eulogy.
Delivering a funeral tribute can be a very difficult role for someone that is affected by grief. It is important that the person invited to deliver the tribute feels able to do so without undue upset, and is emotionally secure enough to perform a professional role in the service.
Hymns and music
The funeral service usually includes the singing of two hymns accompanied by the organ. Many people choose traditional funeral hymns such as ‘Abide with me’, ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’ or ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’. It’s also a good idea to choose hymns that might express the interests or personality of the person who has died. ‘All things bright and beautiful’ is regularly chosen for people who include gardening amongst their hobbies; ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ is the traditional hymn of the seafarer, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ is often chosen by people that identify strongly with their English roots.
Other pieces of music can be played on the organ at the beginning of the service as the coffin comes into the church building or used to accompany the funeral party out at the end of the service. At Holy Trinity Church we have a skilled organist who can advise on a choice of suitable music to help set the tone you want to set.
There is also a facility for playing recorded music from a CD at Holy Trinity Church. Occasionally a certain piece of music might be especially associated with the person who has died, and it is important to family members to include this music in the service for their consolation. Not every piece of music is entirely sympathetic to the occasion of a funeral or the church setting. Music needs to be chosen carefully, especially where lyrics might create offence.
The bible has many words of hope, peace and consolation to offer that many people attending a funeral service find comforting. The clergy have a select list of bible readings to choose from. A piece of poetry or prose can also be included in the service to be read either by the clergy conducting the service or by a family member as part of their personal tribute. Your choice of reading is dedicated to the memory of someone very close to the heart of the people who will hear it, and it might take some time to decide upon something appropriate. The clergy are on hand to advise.
The committal is a particularly solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the graveside or, in the case of a cremation, in the crematorium chapel or in church before the hearse leaves for the crematorium.
In the cemetery or churchyard, the family will gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered and they will hear the words: 'We therefore commit his (or her) body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.' Handfuls of earth are then scattered on the coffin.
In a crematorium, the words of committal may be accompanied by the closing of a curtain to hide the coffin from view or the coffin is moved slowly out of sight.
The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their great sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the knowledge of life beyond death.
The offering of prayer and the trust that the person is in God's safe hands can begin the process of healing the grief of loss.
In Bengeo, the churchyards of St. Leonard’s and Holy Trinity Church are closed to burials, as there is no space left for new graves. Burials now take place in a local cemetery and the funeral director can advise. The parish clergy are able to advise on suitable memorials there.
This leaves the question of what is to be done with the ashes. Ashes may be interned in the Memorial Garden at Holy Trinity Church or an existing family grave in either of our churchyards.
When this interment takes place, usually a few days after the funeral, a further very brief service can be held if the family wish it. At Holy Trinity Church a small stone tablet is used to mark the final resting place in the Memorial Garden. Crematoria also have gardens of rest where ashes can be buried and some suitable commemorative mark or record may be made.
After the funeral
Grief – what’s ‘normal’, how can I get help?
People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of their loss until later.
Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss and it may continue for several months. The clergy will always try to help wherever they can. We live locally in Bengeo and have time and opportunity to visit you. Being bereaved is often a very lonely experience, and we aim to walk alongside you in compassion through all life’s moments, good and bad.
What happens after death? Our beliefs?
We believe that God’s love and power extend over all creation. Every life, including our own, is precious to God. Christians have always believed that there is hope in death as in life, and that there is new life in Christ after death.
Even those who share such faith find that there is a real sense of loss at the death of a loved one. We will each have had our own experiences of their life and death, with different memories and different feelings of love, grief and respect. A Christian funeral service is an occasion to express our faith and our feelings as we say farewell, to acknowledge our loss and our sorrow, and to reflect on our own mortality.
Those who mourn need support and consolation. When we come together at a funeral service it is because we want to uphold one another in our loss, declare our thanks for the gift of life, and commend that gift back to God, its creator.
Planning your own funeral
Some people like to save their family from the emotional trauma of organising a funeral after their death and specify the elements of their funeral they wish, such as favourite hymns, music or readings. If you would like to discuss this and plan your own funeral with the Vicar, he will help you.
Costs of funeral
The fee for a funeral service is set centrally by the Church of England, and is round about £100 for a service in either a church or crematorium. If the service is held in church then further expenses are incurred, decided by the cost of an organist, verger and heating of the church building as required. This will add another £100 to the overall service cost.
Can anyone have a church funeral service?
Not everyone knows that they have the right to a funeral in their parish church, even if they and the dead person have not been church-goers. Nor do practising Christians always realise that they can have a Communion service as part of the funeral. However, a church funeral service is conducted according to a Christian rite, and the prayers and readings addressed to God are formally set and can’t be adapted.
If there are beliefs expressed in a Christian funeral service with which you don’t agree, or which the person who has died would not have agreed, then it’s still possible to have secular funeral services held at a crematorium or cemetery building. If you think this would be the right option for you then click here to see details on funerals conducted for those who live without religion.