A friend or loved one dies. You find yourself in the position
of needing to plan the funeral. Here are the steps you'll need to take and the
things you'll need to consider in designing a fitting tribute for your loved one.
Before we begin, you may have some additional questions:
Your first step. Contact a funeral
director and your priest or minister.
If the deceased was involved
in a local congregation, that's the church to call. It is possible that the minister
has been visiting your loved one and may have discussed the funeral. If that's
the case, so much the better.
If your friend of loved one did not
have a strong church connection, you might try your own minister, or the minister
of a close relative of the deceased. Where there is no church connection, your
funeral director can assist you in planning the service.
a decision needs to be made as to whether you want a funeral or a memorial service.
A funeral service is normally thought of as one where the body is
present in the sanctuary. As a practical matter this means it will take place
within a very few days of death. A memorial service is one that takes place after
burial or cremation. A memorial service can be held several weeks or even months
after death, allowing much more time for planning.
In recent years
memorial services are more common than funerals. Part of the reason for this is
the complexity involved in bringing people together across great distances on
If neither you nor the deceased have a membership in
a local congregation, you may want to hold the service in a funeral home. Most
funeral homes have chapels. Funeral directors, like priests or ministers, will
work with you in designing the service.
What should be included
in the service?
Whether you are planning a funeral or a memorial
service there are several elements that may be included:
from the Bible, or other sources, 2) prayers, 3) a sermon, eulogy,
or meditation from the minister, 4) comments by friends and relatives about
the deceased, and 5) appropriate music.
Most denominations have service or prayer books that include an outline of the
service, suggested readings and other standards that can and should be followed.
Beyond that, most pastoral leaders are willing to work with you to insure that
the service is distinctive and personal, allowing family members and loved ones
to process their emotions as well as paying tribute to the life of the deceased.
Differing Expectations About The Funeral
said, I have found that in planning for funerals, the priest or minister may have
a different view of what a funeral is meant to be than the deceased's family and
Clergy tend to view the funeral service as a "celebration
of the resurrection." By contrast, those who are close to the deceased are
primarily interested in paying tribute to the person they've just lost. Clergy
tend to think of including a sermon or meditation as well as scripture readings
that address the reality of death and the hope of eternal life. Family members
tend to think of including a eulogy, or words about the deceased written and spoken
by relatives, loved ones, or in some cases, business associates.
You should be aware of this difference in perspectives from the outset, so that
you can work with your priest or minister to make this a celebration not only
of a life well lived, but also of the church's hope for life in the world to come.
As you continue to discuss the service with the clergy or funeral
director, you may want to suggest music and readings for the service. You may
know members of the family, friends or colleagues of the deceased who might be
willing to participate in the service. Perhaps the deceased left you with written
instructions about his or her expectations for the service, including people that
should be invited to the service and those whom you might include in it. Such
persons can volunteer as ushers, for example, or they can play a more visible
role as a worship leader. The clergy normally encourage such participation.
What about the cost of a Christian funeral in a church?
different churches have different policies, if the deceased was a church member,
it is likely you won't be charged for the use of the church building.
You may need to pay the organist, choir director, soloist or other persons who
participate in the service. Some churches expect you to pay an honorarium to the
sexton who is responsible to preparing the sanctuary for the funeral and for straightening
up afterwards. Some of these people may not be salaried, so your honorarium is
their only means of being compensated for their efforts on your behalf. In addition,
Some churches expect you to pay an honorarium to the sexton who is responsible
for preparing the sanctuary and for straightening up afterwards. If there is a
reception at the church following the service, there may be some extra expense
The minister's honorarium
it is customary to give the minister an "honorarium," for his/her leadership.
The amount of such honorariums is usually up to you. In less affluent neighborhoods
a $100 honorarium might be appropriate; in more privileged communities a $250
honorarium (or larger) might work. Naturally, you should take into account the
time spent by the clergy in working with you in planning and counseling prior
to the service.
Additional costs of a funeral, and one idea for
keeping then under control
These costs mentioned above are for
the religious service. Not included are the funeral director's charges: these
include, preparing the body for burial or cremation, the casket, use of the funeral
parlor for a wake, etc. Also, not included are the costs of a burial plot in the
cemetery. The cost of these services can easily fall within a range of $5,000
Which brings me to one of the most important reasons
for suggesting that the call to a priest or minister should be the first thing
you do after learning of the death of a loved one. Most clergy appreciate how
high the cost of a funeral can be, and if your family is facing hardship in affording
these costs, the clergy might be able to work with your funeral director on your
behalf to keep such cost under control.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.