Humanist funeral ceremonies

An interview with Trevor Moore of The British Humanist Association

A young girl walks up to the front of the hall and starts singing. She is the niece of the person about to be cremated. Her voice cracks. It’s all too much. Five or six people in the congregation stand up and join in her song. Soon everyone joins her and she is able to join them, her tears mixing with a huge smile of relief and gratitude.


When I ask Trevor Moore, a Humanist Celebrant, about a heart-warming moment, this is the first example that comes to his mind. It embodies a lot of what humanist funeral ceremonies are about. They are celebrations of a life. They are about bringing people together. And they are about doing what best suits the legacy of the person being celebrated, as Trevor puts it, “cherishing the legacy and taking it forward”.


Many Humanist celebrants undergo training accredited by the British Humanist Association. They are different to civil celebrants in a few ways but mainly in that they do not recognise an afterlife and there are no acts of worship at humanist funerals. People of all faiths are welcomed and a favourite hymn or two would not be discouraged but if you want a mix of religious and secular ceremony then the religious or civil celebrants are for you. Humanists are all about celebrating, well, humans.


Trevor, based in London and formerly a lawyer with a City law firm, finds his experience of listening carefully and public speaking are both put to good use. Crafting a eulogy, tribute or ceremony that reflects a life needs careful attention and a lot of compassion.


Families that use celebrants benefit from being in the hands of a professional. No one knows how they’re going to feel on the day so to have someone who is not mourning, and has experience of the practicalities and the emotional weight of the day, is a comfort and one less thing to worry about.


As a man who has been to more funerals than most of us, I asked Trevor for some tips. Some of these ideas are best suited to humanist ceremonies but some would benefit any kind of funeral. Over to Trevor:


When many friends and family want to speak within the ceremony, it may be possible to book a double time slot at the hall or chapel of a crematorium. This is better than trying to speed up people or risking a delay for the next funeral party to use the room.


A celebrant will collect copies of the scripts of all those wanting to talk at the funeral. This is an important back-up in case a speaker feels overwhelmed on the day or gets stuck in traffic. Whatever happens, the celebrant will be able to ensure their thoughts and words are included by standing in for them, and can hand the family a complete bound script afterwards.


Write an order of service to help people feel oriented. They might not know what to expect from a humanist ceremony so having a simple program will help.


Unless you especially want a certain kind of print job, print the order of service at home. This allows you to really personalise it and is a great way of getting children involved.


Sometimes people feel they can’t stand up to speak in front of a room full of people but they are more comfortable writing. If people want to write a line or two, maybe just expressing their feelings about the person who has died, a celebrant can read a collection of these and they can be included in the order of service booklet.


Think of ways that the congregation can do things together. Singing an appropriate song, that’s easy to sing along to, can be a good way of uniting everyone and also releasing some tension.


Some families appreciate having a time in the service when people can come forward and touch the coffin or write on it.


Allow time for reflection during the service. This might be a time when you could show a collection of photos from the life of the dead person or have a screen showing posts from a social media page where people who couldn’t attend the funeral can post messages.


A celebrant can help with the writing of a committal, which is just a few farewell words. If these are printed in the order of service then the celebrant can ask the congregation to join in saying them together at the end of the service.


More information:

The British Humanist Association

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *