What is a humanist funeral?

25 July 2016

Humanist funerals are a rising phenomenon. Provided by an increasing number of practicing celebrants, these bespoke ceremonies mirror the life of the deceased.

What is a humanist funeral?

Here, we look at how the emergence of Humanist ceremonies is changing the way we all view funeral ceremonies.

The best way to explain a humanist funeral is by first explaining what the term Humanist means. Atheists or agnostics who do not lend themselves to any particular religion often subscribe to humanist ideology. What this means is a pledge to live ethically and prioritise human welfare and empathy. However, you don’t have to be a humanist to have a humanist funeral. In fact, an increasing number of people including celebrities, like the late magician Paul Daniels, request a funeral with humanist features.

Humanist funerals usually differ from traditional funerals in the order of proceedings and the way in which the deceased is remembered. Whereas a traditional funeral centres on readings and hymns and often takes place in a church, a humanist funeral usually takes place either at a crematorium or at a woodland burial site and reflects the way in which the deceased lived including interests and memories.

The selection of music is often more modern and is always personally linked to the individual. Humanist funerals are also usually conducted by a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who is trained to put together a ceremony that is bespoke to the deceased and appropriately commemorates their life. According to the British Humanist Association, there are more than 300 trained celebrants working in the UK right now.

Here's how Humanists UK describes humanist ceremonies: “The death of someone we know and love is often shocking and painful, even if it is expected. Humanist funerals and memorial services offer a personal and fitting way to say goodbye to those who have lived without religion. Many thousands are conducted by our celebrants each year.

“Humanist funerals bring people together to express sadness at the loss but also to celebrate the life lived. They focus sincerely and affectionately on the person who has died, paying tribute to the connections they made and left behind and the way they lived their life.”

Most funeral directors can arrange humanist funerals and incorporate humanist elements into a pre-paid funeral plan. By pre-arranging your funeral, you can specify your preferred music and readings, burial place and much more.