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How can I make the funeral ceremony even more meaningful?
Can I add religious content into a Celebrant-led funeral service?
The Ultimate Guide to a Celebrant-Led Funeral
Saying goodbye to a loved one is an incredibly personal and meaningful event. It is important that you are able to commemorate their life in a way that feels right; a way that honours the beautiful life they led.
For those looking for a more personalised approach – and one that may not include any references to a specific faith – a celebrant-led funeral offers a special alternative.
With a funeral celebrant, you can expect a ceremony centred around a humanistic perspective. You will also be given the opportunity to bring your own – or the deceased person’s – beliefs to the forefront of the funeral.
Despite celebrant-led funerals offering an abundance of benefits, they are less well known than a traditional funeral (although their popularity is growing!). That’s why we’ve put together The Ultimate Guide to a Celebrant-Led Funeral; we hope it will help guide your decision and ease the pressure and uncertainty of what can often be a difficult time.
What is a funeral celebrant?
A funeral celebrant is the main host of a funeral or a celebration of life, and it is their role to officiate the service.
Funeral celebrants can be religious or non-religious: it is one of the great things about them as you have the freedom to weave in anything you like to pay homage to your loved one. An independent funeral celebrant will strive to accommodate any wish, and this can include a prayer or hymn if it feels appropriate for the person that has died.
Essentially, they exist to create a cathartic celebration that perfectly encapsulates the memory of the person who has passed away.
How can a funeral celebrant help you with a funeral?
Although the funeral celebrant’s primary role is to lead and officiate the ceremony, there are many ways they will support you throughout your time of grief.
Typically, a funeral celebrant will:
- Be a point of support and guidance from the very first meeting right through until the end of the service
- Spend time understanding the wishes of the family and make sure these are carried out sufficiently
- Keep you fully in the loop of how the service will run so that you never feel out of control
- Prepare the eulogy with guidance from the family so that it is a true reflection of their loved one
- Take charge of the timing of the service so that no moments are ever rushed
- Craft a ceremony that is personal and helps all friends and family to find some sort of closure for the person they have lost
Whether you want the funeral ceremony to be entirely void of any religion, or you want to bring in a spiritual or faith-based message, they will create a space for open dialogue between themselves and the family. This space is your inclusive, safe opportunity to share what is important to you.
What happens when I meet my funeral celebrant?
Your Funeral Director will engage with your chosen celebrant, who will then arrange a meeting with the family (and possibly friends or a solicitor).
This meeting is for you to get to know your funeral celebrant and build a connection; after all, they are going to play an important role in an incredibly precious day… it’s crucial that you feel at ease with them.
The funeral celebrant will give you an open floor to share your feelings and memories about your loved ones. Funeral planning is undeniably a difficult process, but they will do everything they can to help you evoke happy, heartfelt stories; ones you may have even forgotten. During this conversation, they will gain a deep understanding and awareness of the type of person the deceased was. They will use this knowledge to carefully craft a service that does their life justice.
Many feel that this is a huge part of the grieving process, and it facilitates a more enriching way to come to terms with loss. It is all about taking the time to remember the departed, and work together to build a final farewell that celebrates the many different layers of their unique personality and life.
What happens at a celebrant-led funeral?
While the structure of a funeral will differ depending on whether the family chooses a crematorium or burial based ceremony, there are typical features that will largely remain the same.
Prior to the funeral ceremony
As mentioned, the family will meet with the celebrant beforehand and will remain in close contact with them in the days leading up to the funeral. The service will have been drafted and approved by the family, with any amends necessary made in good time.
Any music choices, specific actions (such as what will be done with the ashes in a cremation), poems or readings will have been confirmed and passed onto the funeral location. By this point, there is nothing that the family should need to concern themselves with.
On the day
It is likely that the celebrant will arrive early to speak to members of staff, whether this is at a crematorium or burial site. They will ensure that everything is ready and that all involved staff are fully aware of the timescale and order of the day.
Family and friends will be asked to arrive around 10-15 minutes before the start of the ceremony. If weather permits, they will gather outside and wait for the hearse to arrive. This gives mourners the chance to see their loved ones and emotionally prepare themselves before the ceremony begins.
The celebrant will lead the way in with the Funeral Director. They will be followed by the coffin, the chief mourners and then everyone else. Guests will fill up the seats behind and to the side of the family. The Funeral Director will bow to the coffin and leave, followed by the music fading. This is when your funeral celebrant will start leading the ceremony.
The celebrant will take mourners on a journey through the life of the deceased, into their sadness and grief and then back out on the other side. They will cover all the themes and moments discussed with the family prior to the funeral, celebrating and reflecting on everything that made the departed so deeply loved.
Generally, the ceremony will be broken down into:
- An introduction, with any information and the wake and collections shared
- A middle section, consisted of the eulogy or tribute, as well as any guest or family readings
- A committal may then be preceded by a moment for quiet reflection. This is often accompanied by music, a poem or silence. This is seen as the heart of the ceremony.
- Final words to round up the ceremony and close on a note of hope
Throughout the celebrant-led funeral, the aim is to turn this terrible sorrow into something that could spark a sincere, emotional connection and, ultimately, a feeling of peace.
You can read more about what happens at a celebrant-led funeral here.
How long does a funeral ceremony last?
A funeral service should be as unique as the person it commemorates; which means there really is no right or wrong answer on the appropriate length.
A burial ceremony tends to be longer than a cremation (which averages at around 40 minutes), but it will always come down to the wishes of the family, any religious traditions, budget, attendees and any special wishes from the deceased.
You can find out more about different implications on the timing of a funeral ceremony here.
What makes a good funeral celebrant?
A good funeral celebrant is one that will not only listen closely to your wishes, but will use intuition and instinct when crafting the perfect ceremony.
They will take the time to learn about your loved one’s life, what they cared about, what they believed in and the legacy they left behind. They will combine this with your instructions and their own ideas to deliver something significant and special for you and your loved one.
In order to find a celebrant that makes the process as calm and meaningful as possible, you will want to choose an individual that ticks three boxes: a good writer, a good listener and a good speaker.
What are the benefits of having a celebrant-led funeral?
One of the biggest benefits of a celebrant led funeral is their openness and inclusivity. They allow you to create a ceremony that is a true reflection of the deceased, and actually takes the mourners on a journey away from their grief.
Many feel that typical funerals don’t offer any kind of emotional weight or psychological transformation, despite this being a huge part of the grieving process. This can even leave family and friends feeling even sadder when they leave the service.
However, a funeral celebrant will try to bring a sense of light to the ceremony, reminding the mourners that the individual lived a beautiful, meaningful life.
It also gives you the flexibility to factor in different beliefs and wishes, without being tied to a specific structure.
What can I expect from funeral celebrant speeches?
Every funeral celebrant speech will be written from scratch, and so you can genuinely expect anything!
Some wonderful ways in which your celebrant speech and service can be personalised include:
- A themed ceremony (such as through their favourite colour)
- Sharing a slideshow of their life
- Their favourite piece of poetry or one that means something to the family
- Producing a book of their life
- Readings from a guest
- Lighting a candle for the deceased
- Their favourite music
What questions should you ask when choosing a funeral celebrant?
Whether you choose your funeral celebrant yourself, or your Funeral Director recommends one, you will always have the opportunity to arrange an initial conversation either over the phone, video or face-to-face. This is your time to find out anything you want and need to know about your potential celebrant before making your decision.
Some questions you might want to consider are:
- When we discuss the service, where will we meet?
- What is your previous experience?
- What is your process for the day of the funeral?
- Will you help with eulogies?
- Are there any extra charges we should be aware of?
- Do you have any references or testimonials?
Not only will their answers help you make a final decision, they will also ease any uncertainties and stress in the lead up to the day.
How much does a funeral celebrant cost?
Both religious and non-religious celebrants will (more often than not) charge a fee.
This fee will range, but as a general rule you can expect a cost of between £150 to £250; this cost will be impacted by the distance the celebrant has to travel.
What are the alternatives to a celebrant led funeral?
There are many options when it comes to choosing the right way to say goodbye to a loved one.
Examples of alternatives to a celebrant led funeral include:
- Traditional funeral – this may start with a viewing or visitation, and then a traditional, religious ceremony.
- Green funeral – this will include a biodegradable coffin and a burial in a natural setting or private land. While the ceremony can be held by a celebrant, it can also be administered by a minister or friend.
- Humanist funeral – these are largely similar to an independent celebrant-led funeral, but there can be no religious or spiritual content included in the ceremony.
- Direct cremation – this choice is often made by those who need a more affordable alternative, or do not wish to attend a ceremony.
Where can I find a funeral celebrant guide so I can make my choice?
Luckily, this is where we can help!
We have compiled an ongoing list of funeral celebrants, all available within our handy directory. Every celebrant has been handpicked, and you can browse their detailed portfolios… including images, descriptions and, of course, reviews.
Discover our Directory of Funeral Celebrants and create your perfect goodbye.
Also, read our checklist to planning a funeral to help you go through the stages you need to complete.
Photographer Credits: Bec Zacher