Humanist funerals

02 October 2015

If your loved one was non-religious then you might want to organise a humanist funeral but how do you go about it? Find out here.



Humanist simply means non-religious. In terms of a funeral this means that the funeral and/or memorial service is held in a non-church environment with non-worship content – songs, poetry, music (hymns, even), readings, with a recollection and tribute to the  deceased central to the ceremony.

Although you might engage the professional expertise of a funeral director, the type of service itself, the level of formality, the structure of the event, is often lead by a professional celebrant.While religious funerals are led by a priest of that particular denomination, and civil ceremonies can be officiated by a local authority employee, the celebrant is pivotal to a humanist ceremony.

Finding a celebrant

Many people are loathe to officiate at a loved one’s funeral, for any number of reasons – emotion, nerves, a simple wish to remain low-key in the proceedings rather than lead them.

It’s the role of the celebrant to lead the humanist ceremony. The celebrant won’t usually be known to the family. Professionally trained at no small cost to themselves – around £1,900 for a course on becoming a funeral or marriage celebrant – once engaged they spend hours talking about the deceased with family and friends. The celebrant discusses the details of the ceremony and then creates a script to be followed on the day.

As the word celebrant suggests, the script will celebrate the life gone by rather than any hereafter. 

The British Humanist Association has accredited celebrants and suggests that should you find one through the internet or through your funeral director make sure that they do have BHA approval.

As personal as possible 

The aim of a humanist funeral is to make it as personal to the deceased and their family and friends. The source material about the deceased will have come directly from those who knew him or her best.

If you don’t feel there is any piece of music or prose that you feel appropriate, that is not a problem. The humanist view is that it’s best to make the ceremony a positive reflection of the deceased. If he/she didn’t have a musical note in their body, that’s fine. We can’t all be Lennon and McCartney.

Central to the ceremony is the tribute to the deceased, which is led by the celebrant but with contributions from family and friends.

As a non-religious ceremony, humanist funerals can be held pretty much anywhere – except for religious buildings. However, they are most commonly held in crematoria, at woodland burials and in cemeteries, often at the graveside itself.

Post-funeral gathering  

The celebrant is often asked to lead any post-funeral gathering, too.As for cost, the BHA recommends a fee of between £150-220 for a standard length service, with travel and, if necessary overnight accommodation to be considered. 

For those who had little, if any, religious belief, in their lives the humanist ceremony perhaps offers the family of the deceased a greater opportunity to reflect on and endorse the life and personality than a more formally structured faith-based funeral.

Visit https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-celebrant/

To see how you can become a qualified celebrant, visit https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/training-to-be-a-humanist-celebrant/

Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition for more useful articles delivered direct to you every month. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.